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Problems with flu vaccine may add to Michigan hospital patient load

Dec 5, 2014

Michigan hospitals may have to plan on receiving more flu patients this year.

Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Centers for Disease Control officials say the vaccine does not protect well against the dominant strain (H3N2) seen most commonly so far this year.

The strain appears to have mutated, or drifted, since the vaccine was developed. 

The dominant strain tends to cause more death and illness, especially in the elderly. CDC officials say the vaccine should still provide some protection, but it won't be as good as if the vaccine strain was a match.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory to doctors about the situation on Wednesday.

Flu vaccine effectiveness tends to vary from year to year. Last winter, flu vaccine was about 60% effective overall, which experts consider good. This year’s flu shot appears to be only 48% effective. 

More people falling ill with the flu, including people who got a flu shot, may mean hospitals will be dealing with a larger than normal number of influenza patients.

Dr. Michael McKenna is the chief medical officer for the McLaren Health System. McLaren operates about a dozen hospitals in Michigan.  

He says if there is a significant increase in people seeking treatment for influenza, the hospital chain may have to take steps to respond.

“We haven’t had to do that in a while, but it is something we do have plans for, and there’s protocols we can put into place when we get into an excess capacity because of an outbreak like this,” says McKenna.

McKenna says that may mean adding bed space, limiting elective surgeries, and discouraging hospital visitors.

The state of Michigan doesn’t keep track of all influenza cases. But the Department of Community Health says three children in Michigan died from the flu during the 2013-2014 influenza season. 

People are encouraged to still get a flu shot, because some protection is better than none.