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Schools close in West Michigan as flu cases increase in Ottawa County

Lance McCord
Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Some schools in West Michigan have been forced to close in the past few weeks because of outbreaks of "flu-like illnesses."

Holland West Elementary closed Thursday and Friday last week. Mendon Community Schools is closing multiple schools for the remainder of the week. Zeeland’s Cityside Middle School is also closed for the remainder of the week. In all cases, administrators say around 20% of students had called in sick.

Overall for the state, influenza cases are down from earlier in the month. But there are still outbreaks in a few areas. One of them is in Ottawa County.

"We're in a really bad flu season this year," says Kristina Weighmink of the Ottawa County Department of Public Health.

Kristina Weighmink is with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. She says the number of flu cases in the county is higher than at this time last year.

“Hopefully, we’d like to think that people are taking our advice by staying home, so there may be more illnesses being reported that previously would not have been,” Weighmink says. “But again, we’re seeing this across the country, that we’re in a really bad flu season this year.”

Statewide, estimates of influenza cases from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services have been higher this flu season compared to last year. 

Credit Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Project, MDHHS / Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
Hospitalizations in Clinton, Eaton, Genesee, Ingham, and Washtenaw Counties from influenza by week.

Those numbers have dipped in the most recent estimates, though MDHHS says influenza activity in the state is still “widespread.”

In recent years, the number of flu cases has gone up later in the season, around February and March. The Centers for Disease Control says flu season can last until May.

Kristina Weighmink says it’s not too late to protect yourself.

“Get your flu shot,” advises Weighmink. “It’s not too late. It does take about two weeks to kick in. So you want to make sure you get that right away so you’re protected. And of course, practice good hygiene: wash your hands and covering your mouth.”

Last year, an estimated 1,300 people in Michigan died from the flu.

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