Tens times more cases of flu at Traverse City medical center

The Munson Medical Center in Traverse City has tightened its visitors policy in response to an increase of flu patients.

Its new visitors policy states that only adults 18 and older may visit patients, people with flu-like symptoms should not visit the hospital, and only two family members at a time may visit a patient. 

The Center had 263 cases of flu as of last week. That’s 10 times more cases than Munson Healthcare Corporate Communications Dale Killingbeck said in a press release the hospital has seen in “previous years.”

The new visitor restrictions are to prevent people with common flu symptoms spreading the disease to the community, according to the hospital’s Infectious Disease Specialist and Medical Director of Infection Prevention Karen Spiers. 

“The flu has been quite challenging this season. We’ve seen more cases than we’ve seen in a number of years. And it’s come a little early for the large numbers we are seeing,” Spiers said. 

She said usually there are more flu patients in January and February of the flu season, but that the number shot up very quickly this December. Flu patients are staying at Munson Medical Center for an average of a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

The H3N2, or Influenza A, strain of the flu is the most common this season. It has been “associated with more severe illness and death, especially among the elderly and young children, than during H1N1- or B-predominant seasons,” according to Killingbeck.

“Many months before we ever start giving the flu vaccine we decide what’s going to be in the vaccine, the components of the virus,” Spiers said. 

But this year, the H3N2 antigenically drifted. The coverage in the vaccine does not completely cover the H3N2 strain that is circulating the population.

Spiers said vaccine is still the best form of flu prevention. She also said people with common flu symptoms should stay at home and rest, and that people with severe flu illness or respiratory problems should visit the Emergency Room or their healthcare provider.