Six people have died so far this winter in Michigan from influenza, prompting health officials to repeat their pleas for residents to get vaccinated.
The state has lagged the nation in flu vaccine coverage in every age group, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. Last year it ranked 42nd in those who received shots, according to the state’s immunization registry.
During the 2012-13 flu season, more than 40 percent of Michigan’s residents were vaccinated, department officials said. But only 9 percent of residents ages 18-24 and 11 percent of residents between 25-49 received the flu vaccine.
“The public is not taking enough advantage of what is known to be a very effective way to avoid illness, hospitalization and in some cases, death,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive of the health department. “People least likely to get vaccinated against the flu are people who perceive themselves to be generally healthy.”
Davis said cases of the H1N1 strain, known to affect young, generally healthy adults and send them to the hospital more than other types of flu, have been reported this season.
More than 90 percent of positive influenza specimens at the department’s Bureau of Laboratories are the 2009 H1N1 virus strain.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the incidence of flu as low, last week the University of Michigan reported treating more than a dozen serious flu cases, including children, in its hospital intensive care units. Most of the patients are young, healthy people who didn’t get a flu shot, contracted H1N1 and are now on life support.
Brian Taylor, spokesman for St. John Providence Health System, which has hospitals in five counties, including Macomb, Oakland and Wayne, said 52 cases of the flu were reported in its hospitals between Dec. 29 to Jan. 4. Of those, 41 were outpatient and 11 were hospitalized.
“This number could be higher,” Taylor said. “They don’t test everybody who comes into the hospital. If you have obvious flu symptoms, it doesn’t make sense to test you, it makes sense to treat you.”
Henry Ford and Beaumont health systems also report more patients seeking flu treatment.
Davis said flu and pneumonia are two of the top 10 causes of death in the country each year. The flu is the only one for which there is a preventative tool, namely vaccination.
“Patients with severe flu are at risk of developing pneumonia,” said Dr. Safwan Badr, who works at DMC Harper University and DMC Detroit Receiving hospitals.
The intensive care units at both hospitals have had many patients with either pneumonia from the flu or pneumonia after the flu, he said.
Badr said colleagues say the flu’s impact is worse this year than in previous ones.
Seasonal influenza generally peaks between January and April, Michigan health department officials say.
Nationally, CVS has administered about 4.4 million flu shots since the fall, spokesman Michael DeAngelis said. Rite Aid pharmacists have administered more than 2.4 million flu shots to date, and will continue to do so while supplies are available, the drug chain said in a press release. Neither had numbers specifically for Michigan.