CDC investigates flu outbreak at University of Michigan
Federal public health officials are investigating a “large and sudden” outbreak of flu among students at the University of Michigan, the university announced this week.
Since October, Ann Arbor has reported 528 cases of flu on campus, a vast majority – 77 percent – occurring in students who have not been vaccinated against the flu. According to the university, the spread of the disease has accelerated over the past several weeks.
Experts from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were on campus this week to assist university officials and local health officials to analyze the outbreak and assess the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccines.
Emily Martin, an associate professor of epidemiology in the university’s School of Public Health who is assisting with the investigation, said the current case numbers were significant, especially compared to recent years. He said the university could identify more cases of flu this year as students were seeking tests for symptoms that overlap with those of Covid-19.
“This is a good opportunity to get a good early indication of what vaccine effectiveness is right now, what strains are spreading, what it might predict for the rest of the country,” Dr Martin said.
Nationally, flu infection rates remain low, but the CDC said this week that it has received reports of outbreaks among college-age adults. The agency said in a statement that the outbreaks at the University of Michigan represent the “first significant” activity of this year’s flu season. Flu season typically begins in October and can last until May, the agency said.
The University of Michigan outbreak is the only college campus investigation the CDC is currently involved in, said agency spokeswoman Kate Grusich.
University and local health officials requested the agency’s assistance, Dr. Martin said, adding that the investigation was a joint effort.
In Michigan, 2.2 million doses of the flu vaccine have been given this year, a figure that accounts for about 22 percent of the state’s population, according to state data. The vaccination rate has lagged behind in every age group as compared to the last two years.
In Washtenaw County, which includes Ann Arbor, nearly one in three residents are vaccinated against the flu, the data shows.
As of the end of October, an estimated 43.2 million flu vaccines were given to people 18 years of age or older in pharmacies and doctor’s offices nationally, Ms Grushich said. He said about 62.4 million doses were given in the same period last year.
Last year’s flu season was mild compared to last year, experts said, as the precautions people took to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including masking and social distancing, helped contain the spread of the flu.
Dr Martin said the university was hearing from students who were confused about how the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine might interact. He encouraged students to get both vaccines, emphasizing that they have different benefits.
“One doesn’t take the place of the other,” she said.
A recent survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that four in 10 Americans were unsure about the flu vaccine or did not plan to receive it. Nearly a third of the 1,000 people surveyed expressed more concern about getting Covid-19 than the flu.
But experts cautioned that this year could be different and little is known about the interaction of COVID-19 and the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older get the flu vaccine.
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