Forty patients are currently being treated at the University Hospital for influenza, and over a dozen of those are in intensive care.
In Washtenaw County, two adult patients — one of whom was treated at University Hospital — have died from the flu. Oakland County has suffered three patient deaths, all of whom were in their 20s, The Detroit News reported Tuesday.
Statewide, six adult deaths and one pediatric death have been reported.
While the state only officially tracks pediatric flu-related deaths, counties may choose to report adult deaths at their own discretion.
In response to the uptick in influenza cases, the University of Michigan Health System has put a visitor restriction policy in place. This measure means anybody coming to visit a patient in the hospital is asked to stay home if they have flu symptoms, and children under the age of 12 may not visit any patient who is hospitalized with the flu.
Most of UMHS influenza patients have contracted H1N1, though UMHS spokeswoman Kara Gavin said the hospital has only tested for specific strains in certain cases.
The H1N1 strain of influenza is most commonly associated with the 2009 pandemic. At that time, there was no vaccine and the disease killed over 470 individuals in the U.S. alone. However, research since the outbreak lead to the creation of the vaccine currently being offered.
Eden Wells, a clinical associate professor at the School of Public Health, said it’s hard to predict how this flu season will continue, but that the public health community is worried it will be “moderately severe,” which would be similar to the severity of last year’s season.
However, she said there is one crucial difference from last year’s season: young, otherwise healthy people are more disproportionately affected than usual.
“When you talk about those cases in the intensive care unit, most of those folks are young and healthy,” Wells said. “So what they have in common was … a lot of them didn’t get vaccinated.”
The strain in question, H1N1, is another reason why more young adults are catching the flu this year. It’s still unclear why younger populations are more susceptible to the strain, but there are some hypotheses that came out of studying the 2009 pandemic of the same strain.
“It does appear that this H1N1 strain has some similarities to strains from the 1950s,” said Wells. “So those people that are in their 60s or over possibly have some cross reaction or cross immunity with this H1N1 strain.”
She added that this possibility shouldn’t keep anyone from getting vaccinated.
“My parents are in their 80s. I’d be terrified if they weren’t vaccinated, because that doesn’t mean they won’t get it,” she said. “They just have a decreased chance of getting it.”
Wells added that it won’t be too late to get vaccinated until flu season calms down sometime around March. The Center for Disease Control recommends anyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated.
Information from the University Health Service about flu vaccination availability can be found here.