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(Chelsea Update would like to thank Susan Cerniglia for the information in this story.)

Flu seasons can be unpredictable – especially in terms of severity.

Washtenaw County Public Health reminds residents that some things are more certain. Seasonal flu will arrive, and it is likely to cause the highest rates of illness in late December through February. Vaccination can protect against severe illness and reduce the spread of illness in our community. Get your flu vaccine in time for the holidays – and do your best not to share flu this season.

“Too many people think of the flu as just a bad cold. Influenza affects the whole body, and in some cases leads to pneumonia or encephalitis,” says Alice Penrose, MD, MPH, medical director for Washtenaw County Public Health in a press release. “You may think you never get the flu, but you may have a subclinical infection (case without symptoms) and still be able to spread it to others. Getting vaccinated is really a matter of protecting our whole community as well as yourself.”

The 2014-2015 Flu Season in Washtenaw County
The number of flu-related hospitalizations last season was the highest seen in recent years, with 381 total hospitalizations and 78 residents admitted in a single week in late December. Individuals 75 years and older were particularly affected, representing over half of the hospitalizations. There were 15 flu-related deaths among Washtenaw adults.

There was good news for Washtenaw County children last year. Children represented only 3 percent of local flu hospitalizations. Significantly, the flu vaccine rate for Washtenaw children 6 months to 4 years was the highest in Michigan.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates drop off among young adults 18 to 29 years. Only 34 percent of county residents in this age group were vaccinated against seasonal flu last year, according to our most-recent countywide health survey. Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older (Health Improvement Plan (HIP) of Washtenaw County, 2015).

A complete summary of Washtenaw hospitalizations for the 2014-15 season and a Washtenaw County flu vaccine coverage summary are available on our Flu Activity web page.

Influenza (the flu)
The flu can affect anyone, but older adults, children and individuals with chronic health conditions are at greater risk for severe complications from flu. Flu is a contagious illness that can be spread person to person through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Flu symptoms include:

Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Sore throat
Fever and/or chills

In addition to annual flu vaccination, take these steps to stay healthy and prevent the spread of disease:

Stay home if you are sick
Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough
Wash hands often using soap and warm water
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs

Washtenaw County Public Health offers vaccines to children and adults regardless of insurance status or income. Call 734-544-6700 to schedule an appointment. Cost for the flu shot is $25 for children and $30 for adults. Cost for the flu mist varies by age: 2 to 18 years is $29, and 19 to 49 years is $34. All flu vaccine at Washtenaw County Public Health is quadrivalent and includes four influenza strains.

More information is available on our Flu Vaccine web page.

Flu vaccine is also widely available at area medical offices, pharmacies and community events. See http://flushot.healthmap.org/ for local options.

Other Sources of Reliable Flu Information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) www.cdc.gov/flu

The Michigan Department of Community Health www.michigan.gov/flu

The Immunization Action Coalition www.immunize.org/influenza

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