Influenza epidemic: Flu hospitalizations rise in West Michigan

Posted at 5:28 PM, Dec 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-31 17:44:43-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared an influenza epidemic. Within the last week, there has been a serious rise in the number of people with the flu, 28,218 cases across the country; however, health experts do not believe we have reached the peak of flu season yet.

At Spectrum Health hospitals alone, 20 to 25 patients are being hospitalized each day because of the flu. Spectrum Health Manager of Infection Prevention Dorine Berriel-Cass told FOX 17 this is a high number compared to last year: during the 2013-2014 influenza season’s peak, 37 patients were admitted for the flu during one week.

Bronson Methodist Hospital officials in Kalamazoo reported similar numbers, stating about 20 patients are currently being admitted daily due to the flu.

“We have about triple the numbers that we’ve had in the few years of patients being hospitalized, and we don’t believe we peaked,” said Berriel-Cass.

As soon as a potential visitor walks into Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, an employee greets you and asks if you are healthy. If yes, you’re given a “I’m a healthy visitor” sticker; if not, any person showing flu-like symptoms is asked to leave, or wear a mask if visiting a patient is a must.

Despite the high flu hospitalization numbers, healthcare experts believe the numbers will get even higher once students are back to school.

“School starts again next week, so we anticipate that we’re going to get another uptick once all the kids are back together and sharing their germs too,” said Berriel-Cass.

Berriel-Cass told FOX 17 more people are being hospitalized this flu season partly because of the influenza virus mutating from this year’s flu vaccination. This year, the country is seeing a lot of H3N2. Berriel-Cass said this year’s flu shot has H3N2 within it, but it is not an exact match; however, she still recommends getting vaccinated.

“People that got vaccinated have some protection, but maybe not enough to keep them from actually getting sick with the flu.”

Berriel-Cass also said there is enough supply of antiviral medication like Tamiflu, for when you call your doctor with flu symptoms.

Until then, experts remind us that the influenza virus can live on common surfaces like elevator buttons and doorknobs several hours. Also important, a person with the flu can spread the virus one day before showing any symptoms.