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Number of reported flu cases spike in Kent County

Dec 30, 2014

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There’s been a spike in the number of people going to the emergency room with flu like symptoms in Kent County.

Brian Hartl is an epidemiologist with the Kent County Health Department.

He says nearly 17% of people coming into the emergency room in the last week reported symptoms of flu-like illness.

“We haven’t seen anything even close to that level over the past 4 or 5 years,” Hartl said.

It’s the highest percentage tracked by Kent County’s health department since the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009. Last season, it peaked at 9.5%.

Hartl says there’s been a “drift,” or minor genetic change in the strain of H3N2. That’s the strain that’s circulating most in Kent County right now. Hartl says the flu appears to be less severe, causing no deaths in the county yet, but is spreading more easily.

Statewide, numbers show an increase as well, according to Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for Michigan’s Department of Community Health. She says the number of people reporting flu-like illnesses at emergency rooms across the state is higher now than it has been in the last three years during the same time.

Hartl says people should still get a flu vaccination if they can. People with symptoms should avoid other people.

“We know it’s the holiday season and people are going parties and things like that and they really want to go but we don’t want people to be passing that on to other people,” Hartl said.