Flu cases continue to rise

Krystle Wagner • Feb 6, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Widespread influenza activity is being reported across the United States, and West Michigan is not being spared.

Since mid-December, the number of positive flu tests in Ottawa County has grown from 500 a week to now 2,000 a week, according to Marcia Mansaray, epidemiologist for the county’s health department.

Through the week ending Jan. 27, the number of cases continued to climb. Based on a preliminary report, Mansaray said the numbers look to be consistent, which could mean cases are beginning to stabilize, but not all of the information for last week was in yet.

Given the growing number of residents becoming ill, some health care providers have reported that they’re out of rapid flu tests, and that might cause artificially low numbers, Mansaray said.

The past few weeks have brought a significant increase in patients, said Dr. Lisa Hoekstra, medical director for North Ottawa Community Health System’s Urgent Care.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, runny or stuffy nose, cough, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.

There hasn’t been a flu season this severe since 2009, when we were dealing with the H1N1 virus, Mansaray said.

Two key factors in the flu season are the flu strain and population of vaccinated residents, according to Mansaray. The H3N2 virus circulating now also causes more severe illnesses. So far, one in three Ottawa County residents has received a flu vaccination.

Influenza A is still the most prevalent strain circulating. Last year, influenza A circulated early in the season before influenza B became most prevalent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a few ways to tell if you have a cold or the flu:

— A cold gradually comes on, while the flu is abrupt. 

— Although sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat sometimes occur with the flu, those symptoms are more common with a cold.

If someone does get the flu and has been vaccinated, Mansaray said it’s usually milder than if they weren’t vaccinated. 

For the most part, residents can treat the flu at home. Hoekstra said the flu can be treated with rest, fluids, alternating between ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and an over-the-counter decongestant cough medicine if the sick person isn’t a child.

One group of people who should seek antiviral medicine such as Tamiflu are those older than 65, pregnant women, children younger than 5, and those who have a condition that makes them immune deficient, Hoekstra said.

Overall, the flu usually lasts 7-10 days. Using Tamiflu can help you get better about 21 hours earlier than people who don’t take it, Hoekstra said.

If people become extremely ill, are unable to control their fever, become short of breath or have a productive cough, they should seek medical care.

The CDC says there are steps that you can take to prevent getting the flu:

— Limit or avoid contact with people who are sick.

— Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

— Wash your hands with soap and water.

— Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.

— Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.

— Disinfect and clean contaminated surfaces.

There are other respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses circulating, and the best way to protect yourself from them is to wash hands with soap and water, Mansaray said. 

Hoekstra and Mansaray also encourage residents to get vaccinated.

“It’s the best protection we have,” Mansaray said. “It’s a rapidly changing virus.”

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