Flu, COVID season less severe in Northeast Michigan

News Photo by Mike Gonzalez Jake Straley, a nurse practitioner, looks at his computer in his office at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena on Feb. 29.

ALPENA — Officials at MyMichigan Health said influenza and COVID-19 trends this winter were “both substantially less” than during previous seasons at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena.

Vicky Diehl, an infection prevention nurse with MyMichigan Health, the Midland-based owner of the Alpena hospital, said she did not have any exact statistics for Northeast Michigan, but said the hospital had fewer hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses and saw more less-critical emergency room cases.

While the bulk of the flu and COVID-19 season is over, Diehl said cases usually drop significantly by the end of April and Michigan may get more flu cases in the coming two months.

“There are kind of peaks and valleys with influenza that coincide with usually about this time of year when people start coming back from Florida,” Diehl said. “Sometimes, we see an initial increase in the amount of influenza in our area because people are coming back with potentially a different strain or they’re coming back sick, all sorts of different reasons. So it kind of ebbs and flows.”

Diehl said the Alpena hospital did not report any deaths related to the flu or COVID-19 over the winter season.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Friday confirmed the state’s first influenza-associated pediatric death this flu season. The state did not say where that death occurred.

Sherry Warczynski, manager of regulatory compliance and infection prevention at MyMichigan Health, said it’s important to learn about trends with contagious illnesses as doing so can help others understand when there is a higher risk of contracting anything.

“Some of those spikes in the winter months are because people are indoors, and so they’re just more in close proximity to one another,” Warczynski said. “They’re more likely to get sick from someone else than in the summertime. You tend to be out more outdoors. You’re not really as close to people.”

What Warczynski said coincides with new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for people who have contracted a respiratory illness.

The guidelines support returning to normal activities when symptoms improve and fever has gone away for 24 hours without any fever-reducing medication.

The new guidelines now say that, when returning to normal activities, people should still keep up to date with vaccinations for respiratory diseases and continue maintaining good hygiene through handwashing, cleaning surfaces, and covering coughs and sneezes, which is what both Warczynski and Diehl recommended.

The CDC also recommends increasing ventilation indoors by opening windows and doors, getting tested for the flu and COVID-19 to receive antiviral medication to prevent severe illness, and wearing a well-fitting mask for five days.

“The CDC does sometimes change their guidelines for COVID, but, when they’re changing their guidelines for COVID, they’re changing them for the public,” Warczynski said. “The hospitals typically have a more strict, more stringent set of guidelines to follow. We may have to isolate a patient longer in the hospital than what the CDC would say for the public.”


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