Updated Jan. 7, 2014
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — More than a dozen adults and children are in intensive care at the University of Michigan Health System’s hospitals right now, because of flu.
Most are young and otherwise healthy, and were transferred to U-M from other hospitals because their flu was so severe. Most have the H1N1 strain of flu.
And as far as hospital staff can tell, these patients either didn’t get the flu vaccine at all -- or didn’t get it in time to protect them fully. This year’s flu vaccine includes protection against H1N1 flu.
At the same time, a number of other flu patients in less-severe condition are also recuperating in other U-M hospital beds. Hundreds more with flu-like symptoms have sought care in U-M emergency departments and clinics in recent weeks.
The rapid uptick in flu activity has led UMHS to issue temporary visitor restrictions, to protect vulnerable patients from unnecessary exposure to flu.
People with flu-like symptoms - such as fever, body aches, and cough -- should not visit their loved ones at U-M hospitals, or come with patients to appointments or emergency visits, if at all possible. No children under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit the most vulnerable U-M hospital patients.
U-M doctors and nurses hope the news of severe flu cases in young, healthy people will prompt unvaccinated Michiganders to get a flu vaccine for themselves and their children as soon as possible.
“It’s not too late to vaccinate, there is plenty of vaccine available at drugstores and doctors’ offices, and everyone over the age of 6 months should get the vaccine,” says one of the doctors in charge of treating the most critically ill flu patients, Lena Napolitano, M.D., associate chair for critical care in the U-M Department of Surgery.
Déjà vu flu?
The current rash of severe flu cases reminds Napolitano of four years ago, when the H1N1 strain of flu first appeared in the United States. A vaccine against it had to be developed after the regular seasonal flu vaccine had already been distributed.
“We are seeing the same thing we saw in 2009 and early 2010, with ICUs full of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who need advanced life support for flu-related illness,” she says. “Except this year, protection has been available since September.” (Read a summary of findings from 2009)
She adds that many of the patients this year, as before, have developed severe complications from flu – including life-threatening lung and kidney issues, and a body-wide infection crisis known as septic shock.
It appears that most of the current ICU patients have the H1N1 flu strain. This year’s regular seasonal flu vaccine protects against the most commonly circulating H1N1 strain, as well as others.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine, with very few exceptions.
Visitor restrictions at U-M hospitals and health centers
Flu-like symptoms – fever, along with a cough, sore throat, headache and/or body aches – can come on suddenly and last days.
Even before an infected person has symptoms, he or she can spread the flu virus to others. Children are especially likely to spread flu.
Pregnant women are at special risk from the flu, and should both get vaccinated and stay away from people with flu-like symptoms.
UMHS cares for patients from around the state and nation who have conditions that make them especially vulnerable to complications if they get the flu.
To reduce the risk to uninfected patients, the U-M Health System has implemented the following visitor restrictions and other safeguards:
- If at all possible, people with flu-like symptoms should not visit loved ones who are hospitalized at U-M’s University Hospital, C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the U-M Cardiovascular Center and the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.
- People with flu-like symptoms should not come to their loved ones’ outpatient appointments at U-M clinics and health centers, or come with them to the emergency room, if at all possible.
- Anyone with flu-like symptoms – whether they are a patient or a visitor who absolutely needs to come – must wear a mask while they are at any U-M Health System facility. Masks are available at entrance desks.
- No children under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit any U-M hospital patient who has suspected or confirmed flu, or other conditions that cause staff to place them in a kind of protective status called “droplet precautions.” Also, children under 12 will not be allowed to visit any patient in the adult Bone Marrow Transplant unit.
- Exceptions to these restrictions can be granted by the patient’s care team.
- UMHS staff who have contact with patients must either have been vaccinated against the flu, or must wear a mask when they are with patients. If they develop symptoms, staff members must stay home until 24 hours after their fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medications) and they have a controlled cough and respiratory symptoms.
There’s still plenty of flu vaccine available, and UMHS patients may contact their clinics and offices to arrange for vaccination. Washtenaw County residents can be vaccinated at the county Public Health department for $20, and can provide a receipt for private insurance or bill Medicaid (but not Medicare Part B).
Although getting vaccinated does not guarantee a person won’t get the flu, it greatly reduces the chances.
For more information on flu-related topics at UMHS, visit www.uofmhealth.org/flu
For more information on flu and the flu vaccine, including a “Flu Vaccine Finder” that can help you find a vaccination location near you, visit www.flu.gov .