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Get the shot, take steps to reduce spread of flu virus

At left, Shalina Thornhill, medical assistant, and Dr. Kari Hoekstra, at right, give Dr. Anita Summerville a flu shot. Photo by Andrea Beaudoin (click for larger version)
January 22, 2014 - Oakland County Flu Division Officials said it is important to take preventive steps, like getting a flu shot, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Kathy Forzley, manager and Health Officer of Oakland Health Division said the Centers for Disease Control influenza report for Michigan was upgraded from regional to widespread flu on Jan. 16.

"Flu is widespread in Michigan," said Forzley. "The flu is always respiratory."

Although the flu is predominantly respiratory, some viruses can also include gastrointestinal type of symptoms.

Forzley said there are a number of viral strains circulating this year with the most predominate strain being H1N1.

New viruses like H1N1 are taken so seriously because the population has no immunity, and because we are such a globalized and mobile society sickness can spread quickly.

Health officials create a yearly flu vaccination by monitoring viruses in the southern hemisphere and that is how they predict what virus will circulate during the US Flu season.

For the 2013-14 season, flu strains in the vaccination included two strains of influenza A and a influenza B strain.

Forzley said the CDC did a god job this flu season matching the strain created in the vaccination to the type of flu that appeared.

"The CDC looks at what is going on in southern hemisphere and starts planning what vaccine will be produced," said Forzley. "They are always looking ahead."

"The vaccination is well matched for the type of flu going around," said Clarkston Medical Group Doctor Kari Hoekstra.

Forzley said every year the type of flu strain changes, and the age group affected can also change.

"The predominance of hospitalizations this year has been people under the age of 60," she said. "This year is different than last year. We expect differences each year, and this year more younger to middle age adults are being hospitalized, and we are seeing more severe hospitalizations."

Forzley said the age group mostly being affected, under 60, this flu season is the population that is most reluctant to get a flu shot.

"Everyone needs a flu shot," she said.

Forzley said no matter what rate of infection or what type of virus occurs, the precautions are always the same.

"Stay home when you are sick so as not to expose others, and call your doctor immediately because they can prescribe antiviral medications so symptoms are not as severe."

Dr. Tim O'Neil from Clarkston Medical Group said this is a very heavy flu season, and also recommended people call their doctor for antiviral medications during the onset of illness.

"Antiviral medications are most effective in first 24-48 hours of first getting the flu because it shortens the duration of illness and lessens the likelihood of getting a secondary virus," he said.

Washing hands is the number one step to prevent the flu. Anyone who is sick should stay home from work or school.

According to the CDC, the timing, length and severity of the flu season varies each year. Flu season can begin as early as October and usually peaks in January and February. "We are hoping the season is peaking now," said O'Neil.

For questions about the flu, Forzley said a nurse is available Mon-Fri from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by calling 800-848-5533.

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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