- There have been 528 cases of the flu at a University of Michigan campus
- The size of the outbreak is said to be “unusual”
- The annual influenza vaccine is the “best defense agianst the flu”
Health authorities are working together to investigate an influenza outbreak that’s sweeping through the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan (U-M). They are encouraging members of the community to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
The first positive case was recorded last Oct. 6, the university noted in a news release published in The University Record. Since then, the University Health Service (UHS) has diagnosed 528 cases of influenza, with an increase in the positive cases being observed within the previous two weeks.
Specifically, compared to the week of Nov. 1 when there were 198 influenza cases, on the week of Nov. 8, 313 cases were diagnosed. According to the university news release, 77.1% of the cases was unvaccinated.
Starting this week, a team of experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be working with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD) as well as the university and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to learn more about how the flu is spreading.
“Through prompt detection and collaboration with county and state health officials, as well as School of Public Health and Michigan Medicine researchers, we quickly identified these cases as influenza A(H3N2) virus infections,” Lindsey Mortenson, medical director and acting executive director at UHS, said in the news release.
Influenza A(H3N2) is one of the subtypes of the influenza A viruses that “routinely circulate in people,” according to the CDC.
“Partnering with the CDC will accelerate our understanding of how this flu season may unfold regionally and nationally in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mortenson added.
“While we often start to see some flu activity now, the size of this outbreak is unusual,” Juan Luis Marquez, medical director at WCHD, said in the news release.
Similarly, Emily Martin, UM associate professor and one of the lead researchers studying the flu outbreak, noted the possibility that the huge number of cases may be partially explained by the fact that they have been testing more compared to before because concerns about COVID-19 lead to more people coming in to get tested when they present symptoms, The Detroit News reported.
“But I would definitely say this is larger than what we’ve seen in the past at this time of year,” Martin said as per the outlet.
The investigation will also look at the effectiveness of vaccinations. As it happens, the outbreak has taken place when many students are preparing to leave the campus to go to other places, perhaps back home, for the Thanksgiving break, the news release noted.
As such, the authorities are urging “the entire community” to get vaccinated, as the vaccinations can provide protection against hospitalization, severe illness and death from the flu. Furthermore, the vaccines can protect not just vaccinated people but those around them as well, The University Record noted.
As the Mayo Clinic explained, although the yearly influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, it’s still the “best defense against the flu.”
“This outbreak doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact on the broader local community, but it does raise concerns about what the flu season may bring,” Marquez said in the news release. “Most importantly, we strongly recommend anyone not yet vaccinated against seasonal flu to do so.”
Apart from getting the flu vaccine, there are other important preventive measures to help reduce the spread of the infection. These include the practices we have been accustomed to amid the pandemic, such as washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cleaning surfaces, covering sneezes and coughs, avoiding crowds and avoiding touching one’s face.