With some reports ranking Michigan as the second sickest state in the nation, reports of influenza cases continue to rise. With so many of my patients, friends, and family falling ill with the flu, I know the flu is worse this year. As of December 28, 2019, the Michigan Disease Surveillance Systems reported over 300,000 ‘flu-like disease’ cases. Of those 300,000 cases, 30,000 have been influenza. Now, what’s unusual is the type of virus leading the charge: the B Victoria Lineage virus. We usually don’t see many cases of this virus until later in the flu season.

Why Is Influenza Worse This Year?

It’s not just Michigan, the flu is bad nationwide. The CDC notes an elevated level of flu activity for eight weeks. What’s worse is that it seems to be increasing still. Unfortunately, we can’t pinpoint one reason why the flu is worse this year. What we do know is that the flu is highly contagious. We also know that it is much more stable in cold air with low humidity. So when humidity is low, say around 20%, the virus particles hang around in the air. So, if someone who has the flu sneezes or coughs, the tiny droplets that contain the flu virus can float around in the air much longer than if there was more humidity. That is why it is so important to always cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands or just into the air. 

How Deadly Is This Year’s Flu?

Luckily, the numbers from the CDC do not meet epidemic levels. They estimate around 6.4 million flu illnesses have occurred so far across the nation. Of those 6.4 million, around 55,000 people were hospitalized and 2,900 have died. Sadly, 27 of them were children. This makes the percentage of deaths attributed to influenza or pneumonia around 5.5%. Because the flu is so contagious and so widespread, I want to encourage folks to get their flu shot. The CDC predicts that flu activity will remain high through mid-January and could peak again in February. Not only can the flu vaccine prevent millions of flu illnesses, but it could help you avoid potentially serious complications if you do get sick. So, please protect yourself, your friends, and your loved ones by getting vaccinated.