TRAVERSE CITY — This year’s assortment of coughs, muscle aches, fevers — and worse — could be the result of one notorious strain of influenza.
The potentially deadly H1N1 virus, or swine flu, has roared across the country this winter and the Traverse City area hasn’t been spared.
The illness first showed up in 2009. It’s unlike other strains of the flu in that it can take a serious toll on people who are not usually at risk for major side effects.
“The only thing that distinguishes this strain is it’s more likely to be severe in somebody who is young and healthy than the other strains in other years,” said Michael Collins, the medical director for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, as well as the Leelanau and Benzie county health departments.
The flu can cause pneumonia or a nervous system infection which could result in mental cloudiness or even seizures, Collins said. Three people died of the flu since October at the University of Michigan Health Systems, which receives flu patients from across the state. All of them were under 60 years old, said Kara Gavin, a hospital spokeswoman.
The flu can also cause lung and kidney issues and septic shock, Gavin said.
Twenty people have been hospitalized at Munson Medical Center for the flu, Meghan Daigh, a spokeswoman for Munson Healthcare, said. Samples from 10 people were tested and showed a match for swine flu.
Munson medical facilities reported about 30 flu cases last week and another 30 the week before, said Collins, but there are still a few weeks to go until the height of flu season in late January or early February.
The flu hit in unexpected force in 2009, before a vaccination had been developed.
But this year H1N1 was included in the flu shot, so more people are immune to it.
It’s not too late for others to get vaccinated, Collins said. He said everyone over 6 months old should get the flu shot.
The Grand Traverse County Health Department has administered about 1,600 flu vaccinations this year, about the same number as in past years, said Jodi Kelly, the department’s director of maternal and child health services. Kelly said doctors across the county reported vaccinating about 21,000 throughout the season.
The health department’s vaccination administration fee is $7, but Kelly said the department won’t turn anyone away, regardless of whether they live in the county.
When the flu hit in 2009, Traverse City, Kingsley, and Benzie County schools closed for a week to keep it from spreading.
More than 20 percent of students at Westwoods Elementary, Central Grade School and West Senior high School in Traverse City were absent the day before the closing.
“That probably helped us have not as much disease transmitted here than in other areas,” Collins said. “Schools are a place where families can pass disease from one place to another.”
As t stands, it’s unlikely that schools will be forced to close for the flu, said Christine Guitar, the chief of communications for the Traverse City Area Public Schools. Between winter break and snow days, it’s hard to tell how many students are infected, Guitar said, but attendance would have to be near 70 percent before a cancellation would occur.