GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was a sharp increase in the number of flu cases in Kent County this week.
So far this season, there have been 74 confirmed cases of the flu reported to the Kent County Health Department. Last week, the total number of cases was 40.
“We’ve really seen an uptick in flu cases and flu-like illness over the past week here,” Kent County epidemiologist Brian Hartl said.
Hartl said the health department knows that last week, 10.3% of all admissions to the emergency rooms at area hospitals were due to flu or flu-like symptoms. That’s up from 7.7% the week before. Hartl said that number is well above last year’s peak at this time.
Officials said the actual number of cases is likely much higher because not everyone who becomes ill goes to a doctor or gets tested for the flu.
The flu appears to be hitting children particularly hard this year — and not just in Kent County. Hartl said states around Michigan have seen more flu cases, and so have other counties.
Big Jackson Public School in Newaygo County will close because of illness Tuesday.
In Ottawa County, Alward Elementary in Hudsonville sent an email home to parents reminding them to keep their children home if they’re sick. The letter said the school had its highest number of absences so far this year on Monday and still had to send some sick students home.
“Please keep your students home it they are running a fever, have an upset stomach and/or sore throat,” the email read in part.
The key is to keep students home from school until they are fever- and symptom-free without medicine for 24 hours.
“This is the public’s health,” Hartl said. “You have to make your own decisions, but you’re really impacting every single one of these kids and staff if you send your kids to school and they are still infectious and aren’t completely free of that fever.”
This year’s problem strain of the flu is H3N2, which has previously caused severe flu seasons. This year’s vaccine isn’t as effective against it due to a mutation in the virus.
Still, health officials urge getting the vaccination, which protects against between three and four different strains of the flu, depending on which vaccine you get.
“You never know which [strain of flu] you’re going to get, so you always want to make sure you’re protected no matter what — even though we’ve got this little drift in the H3N2 virus,” Hartl said.
The Health Department recommends everyone older than six months get vaccinated — especially children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The Kent County Health Department provides vaccinations that cost up to $15 for children without insurance and between $39 and $55 for adults. Information on when and where vaccinations are available can be found online at the health department’s website.
It can take about two weeks for the vaccination to become effective.