ESCANABA - With a high number of confirmed cases of influenza coming in earlier than usual, officials locally and across the country are gearing up for what could be a longer and more severe flu season.
"We've noticed some cases of positive influenza in the community and this is earlier than it has been other years," said Jan Moberg, quality improvement and compliance coordinator at OSF St. Francis Hospital.
By the end of November, 48 states and Puerto Rico had already reported laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza according to the CDC. While the most intense flu activity is in the south-central and south-eastern U.S., activity is increasing across the country.
Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press
Melissa Kimmer, RMA, left, fills out paperwork while Jan Moberg readies a flu shot at OSF St. Francis Hospital. Hospital staff receive flu shots to reduce the risk of spreading influenza to patients.
Seasonal flu activity usually occurs in the fall and winter, and peaks in January or February, according to the flu.gov. However some seasons can peak as early as October or as late as May.
Locally, confirmed cases have been coming in since mid-November. "Normally, looking back at years previous, sometimes we don't see positive influenza until February - sometimes even later," said Moberg.
The symptoms of influenza - such as fever, cough, and body ache - can be caused by other viruses. To monitor when a flu season starts and its severity, influenza-like-illness activity is measured on a scale with a baseline at the point when the CDC is confident that the activity is most likely caused by influenza.
Nationally, the baseline was hit in late November. With the exception of the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, this is the earliest that the United States has hit the baseline since the 2003-2004 flu season.
Last year the season was mild, and nationally the baseline was not reached until mid-March. According to Moberg there was too little influenza activity locally to declare a 'community flu season.'
Regardless of the number of flu cases in a given season, it is still possible for people to get the flu if they are exposed to the virus.
Typically the virus is spread when an infected person releases the virus into the air through a cough or sneeze and it is inhaled by others. Infections can also occur when a person touches a surface with the virus on it and then touches their nose or mouth.
According to Moberg, receiving a flu vaccine is key to preventing infection, but many chose not to be immunized because they believe that they can become infected from the vaccine.
"It can't happen. It's not a live vaccine," said Moberg.
In a live vaccine a weakened form of a virus is introduced allowing the body to fight off the infection and prepare for the possibility of a more serious form of the virus. With an inactivated vaccine - such as the flu vaccine - the immune system is prepared differently, and the virus in the shot is unable to cause an infection.
"Some people do feel a little sluggish, a little feverish, a little achy as their body starts to build immunity to the flu, but they're not getting the flu from the flu shot," Moberg added.
In addition to vaccination, Moberg says people should also practice good hygiene and avoid being exposed to people who could be contagious.
The Michigan Department of Community Health warns adults may be contagious one day before showing symptoms and as long as a week after symptoms subside. Children can be contagious for longer than seven days.