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Swine flu hits Michigan hard

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  • Swine flu hits Michigan hard

    Swine flu hits Michigan hard

    60,000 reported ill last week; 16 deaths so far

    Last Updated: November 03. 2009 7:12PM

    Kim Kozlowski / The Detroit News

    Michigan is being hit by the worst flu season in years, with the H1N1 virus sickening tens of thousands of residents, sending hundreds to the hospital, closing nearly 600 schools and killing 16 people -- including five people in Metro Detroit, state officials announced Monday.

    "We are at numbers you might see at the peak of a bad flu season," said Gregory S. Holzman, state chief medical executive. "This is unprecedented."

    The number of flu-like illnesses reported to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System for 2009 was 418,191 as of last week. The number has surpassed the 416,972 cases reported last year, when the number spiked sharply after the seasonal flu vaccine didn't match the strain of the virus affecting the public. In 2007, Michigan reported 404,476 cases.

    Since September, 396 people have been hospitalized and 60,000 were reported ill during the last week of October alone, making the number of flu cases the highest the state has ever recorded in October.

    The state is tracking flu cases on a weekly basis. Ninety-nine percent reported are H1N1, state officials said.

    Those who have died ranged in age from 27 to 72, and most had underlying health conditions, Michigan Department of Community Health officials said. Spokesman James McCurtis said that of the deaths in Metro Detroit, two occurred in Wayne County, and one each in Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties.

    As the number of people reporting flu-like illnesses continues to spike, area hospitals are starting to ban visits by children while health departments scramble to administer scarce quantities of the H1N1 vaccine to groups deemed most at risk.

    People who suspect they have had H1N1 say it's awful.

    Mark Lelle, an Albion resident, never saw a doctor so he isn't sure he had swine flu, but he was sick for nine days with fatigue, aching joints, congestion and headache. A consultant to nonprofit groups and foundations, Lelle didn't have to worry about infecting co-workers since he works at home. He was glad Monday when he finally started to feel better.

    "One day I was awake for only four hours and slept the rest of the day," said Lelle, 49. "I felt like I had been beaten up and I could not stay awake."

    Meanwhile, schools are closing across the state as a result of swine flu.

    So far, only one was forced to close in Metro Detroit, and it has since reopened. As of Monday, 73 schools were reported to have closed, and 495 have closed and reopened since mid-October. Most were in the Upper Peninsula and the northern and western Lower Peninsula.

    Ten health systems in the state also are reporting to have temporarily altered hospital policies, with most restricting visitors to adults over the age of 18, according to the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

    Among the local hospitals with the new visitation policies are Children's Hospital of Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center and those in the University of Michigan Health System.

    "It is really to slow the spread of flu," said Shantell Kirkendoll, a spokeswoman for the U-M Health System. "We're doing all we can to control the spread. But the public can help us, too."

    Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in August that Michigan would receive 1.5 million does of the H1N1 vaccine, the state had been allocated fewer than 1 million doses as of Monday. The state has ordered 765,300 doses, or about 77 percent of its allocation. But it was unclear how many Michigan residents have been vaccinated.

    The vaccine is being administered to those deemed most at risk by the CDC: those 6 months to 24 years old, pregnant women, those with underlying health conditions, infant caregivers and health care workers.

    About 5 million of Michigan's 10 million residents fall into those categories.

    But even those people are struggling to get the vaccine.

    Shelby Township resident James LaCommare, who has many underlying health conditions, wants to get the vaccine, but numerous back surgeries prevent him from standing in line at the vaccine clinics sponsored by the Macomb County Health Department. He said none of his numerous medical specialists have the vaccine. "I want to get the shot, but I need to find a way to do it," said LaCommare, 53. "I know there's a shortage."

    State health officials are uncertain when people who do not fall into the priority groups will be able to get the vaccine.

    For now, Wayne County and Detroit residents falling into target groups can get it during the week, either by making an appointment or walking into health department branches. Detroit has started to offer the vaccine at some recreation centers.

    Oakland and Macomb are holding mass vaccination clinics.

    Some people are showing up at health department clinics although they live in a different county. Health officials are asking people to consider target groups and to cooperate with their county or residence.

    But some counties say they might make exceptions.

    "If you're in line, we won't turn you away," said Bill Mullan, an Oakland County spokesman.
    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela