Health officials: Flu still biggest virus concern

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As concerns over COVID-19, a strain of the coronavirus, continues worldwide, local health officials say the number of potential exposure cases they’re watching has stayed relatively low.

Kent County’s voluntary program for those who may have been exposed to the virus, mainly travelers who’ve been to China, continues.

Recently, three people were under daily surveillance by the program. Each spent 14 days in quarantine, receiving daily health check-ups. 

The Kent County Health Department did daily check-ins over the phone and by email. Three are now out of quarantine and did not develop the virus.

Since then, two other people have entered voluntary quarantine.

“We expect to see more cases come back. We don’t know if that’s going to fall off now that people are not traveling as much to China or not, but we’re prepared for that,” said Brian Hartl, an epidemiology supervisor with the Kent County Health Department.

While COVID-19 grabs the headlines, more common versions of the flu have health officials worried.

“What is really impacting our community now is influenza, especially among our young population,” Hartl said.

While the number of people showing up at local emergency rooms with flu-like symptoms are down this week, they are still up from last year around this time.

Patients with fever, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness and chills accounted for 10.6% of emergency room visits in Kent County the week ending Feb. 15. 6.4% visited the ER with the same symptoms during the same week last year.

Another concern is numbers have yet to peak.

“We saw a lot at the beginning of the season and then it dropped off,” Hartl said. “Now, it’s back up.”

Nationally, the biggest fear is for the young.

The CDC has recorded the highest number of deaths among children from the flu, 105 across the country, since the flu pandemic of 2009.

Kids under the age of 5 are most at risk for complications for the flu and are most likely to be hospitalized.

“We haven’t seen that here in Kent County. We haven’t had any deaths in Kent County of pediatric patients, but we are seeing a lot of illness,” Hartl said.

Health officials say it’s still not too late to get a flu shot.

Along with getting plenty of sleep, doctors say maintaining a healthy lifestyle is still your best bet to avoid getting the bug.

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