GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Local health experts say the flu season is ramping up — again.
Last week alone, 237 cases of influenza were reported in Kent County, and data from the local health department (PDF) shows it looks like the number of cases is on the rise.
Last year, the number of cases spiked earlier in the year and were trending down by this time. The current number of cases is also higher than the four-year average for this time of year.
Experts say it’s not uncommon for the flu season to spike in the early spring. Kent County Health Department Epidemiologist Brian Hartl says it can peak at any point between October and April each year. Sometimes it peaks early, sometimes it peaks late.
“This has been a little bit of an odd year because we did have kind of an increase in activity towards the end of the calendar year in 2018 and also these past couple weeks,” Hartl said. “We’re not sure exactly what the cause of it is. Is it the weather or something else like that?”
Pediatrician Dr. Dan McGee at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital says the last time he saw flu season peak in March followed a snowier-than-average winter.
“We’ve seen a late flu season a number of different times. The last time I recall seeing it was the year we had 120 inches of snow,” McGee said.
Experts don’t know for sure, but they think the crush of winter weather we saw in January and February could be to blame.
“One of the theories is because of all the cold weather we had earlier in the year and the large amounts of school closings for a long period of time, people didn’t have time to cough and sneeze on each other and spread influenza,” McGee said.
Now that kids are back in class and people are out more, the illness is spreading.
Experts recommend people stay alert and think twice if they have yet to get the flu shot or vaccinate their children.
“We know this year that the vaccine is about 50 percent effective against influenza A,” McGee said. “If I was given my choices of getting the flu or not getting the flu and you offered me a 50/50 chance of not getting it, I’d take it.”
Besides getting the flu shot, experts say the best way to prevent yourself from becoming infected is to wash your hands and stay away from people you know are sick.