Deaths linked to influenza alarm health officials

BY ERIN SAYLOR
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 20, 2003

Flu-related deaths of at least two children in southeastern Michigan have prompted health officials to push for more testing and treatment of influenza.

Shabina Khatri
JASON COOPER/Daily
Students wait in University Health Services pharmacy. Much of this waiting can be attributed to the increasing number of influenza cases on and around campus.

Six-year-old Meghan Spieles of Washtenaw County died Jan. 31 of pneumonia and had influenza, and 5-year-old Alana Yaksich of Oakland County died Feb. 3 of encephalitis, a swelling of the brain, and also had influenza.

"Last week we did a lot of screening for influenza in the emergency rooms," said Laura Bauman, an epidemiologist at the Washtenaw County Public Health Department. "This week we're being more selective with who we test because now we know it's out there."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are still investigating if influenza was a factor in two other southeastern Michigan deaths: David Tripp, 14, who died Jan. 25, and Yazzmin Zama, 7, who died Jan. 31.

With more than 100 cases of flu reported to the health department so far in 2003, Bauman said the problem of influenza has increased but it is difficult to know by how much.

"It's hard to measure how much more influenza we're seeing this year compared to those in the past, because we have not actively surveyed for it until now," she said.

University Health Service Director Robert Winfield said that the level of influenza on campus has become a serious problem.

"Right now, there is a bit of an epidemic of it," Winfield said. "We're seeing a lot of influenza A."

A study of influenza cases in Michigan for the 2002-2003 season by the Michigan Department of Community Health indicates that in the second week of 2003, the number of reported cases of the flu in Michigan was just below 40. By the fourth week, the number was about 90 and in the fifth week, there were more than 130 cases.

UHS has 400 doses of the flu vaccine left, Winfield said. Anti-virals are available to shorten the flu - which usually lasts about 10 days - and decrease the symptoms. He added that the pills take 48 hours to begin working and range in price from $10 to $55.

Flu season began the second week of January and usually extends through the end of March, Bauman said.

"It's never too late to get the vaccination," she said. "But if you do become ill, make sure that you get a lot of rest and don't go back to work or school too soon because you can pass it on to co-workers or classmates."