Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 28, 2012

Northern Michigan braces for flu season


— TRAVERSE CITY— Cold weather is here and that usually means a nasty flu virus is close behind.

Health officials urge the public to get a flu vaccine. Skeptics are often reluctant because the vaccine doesn’t always match the virus that’s circulating, but this year international sources say the vaccine matches the flu virus that’s on its way here, said Michael Collins, medical director of the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

“There might be a mutation in the virus as it gets closer, but right now, we expect the vaccine to be very effective,” he said.

The health department has heard little of regional flu cases so far, Collins said.

Major insurance companies cover the cost of a flu shot. The cash charge for walk-in patients ranges from $20.33 at Target to $31.99 at Walgreens. The Grand Traverse County Health Department holds flu shot clinics and charges $7 for children and $30 for adults. Lower income patients pay less.

Flu vaccine administered through a nasal spray should only be considered an option by healthy people, ages 2 through 49, who are not pregnant. That’s because it contains a live, albeit weakened flu virus that can cause side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Another caution: The nasal flu vaccine shouldn’t be used by those who have close contact with an at-risk person. The possibility of transmitting the nasal spray flu vaccine is .6 percent to 2.24 percent, according to the CDC website.

Side effects from the nasal flu vaccine may include runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, fever and sore throat, the website states.

Flu vaccines come in either a single-dose syringe or a multi-dose vial. The latter contains mercury, a preservative, while single-dose syringes are mercury free.

Karen Speirs of Infectious Disease Consultants in Traverse City, said she would always recommend the single-dose vaccine for pregnant women, though she added that the mercury amount in the multi-dose vials is tiny and hasn’t been shown to cause any problems. Munson Medical Center employees all received the mercury-free, single-dose vaccines, she said.

“If I were pregnant, I would definitely insist on a single dose. Even though the (mercury) is such a small amount in the multi-dose vial, I would not take any chances at all,” she said.

But Linda Vaught, a registered nurse and clinical manager of West Front Primary Care, said trace amounts of mercury are so tiny there is no reason for concern, even for those who are pregnant.

“There are no precautions on the label. But if someone does have a concern, there are some places that do have single-dose, preservative-free syringes,” Vaught said.

What’s commonly called the “stomach flu” with vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea isn’t really the flu. That’s what largely hit Courtade Elementary School in early October when 31 students missed school on one day, roughly 10 percent of the student body, said Principal Caroline Wacker, who had to fill in as school secretary one day.

“It swept through the area, a 24-hour kind of thing,” she said.

True influenza is a respiratory disease and involves a cough, fever, aches and muscle pain.

Cases of flu last year were low, unlike the pandemic of the H1N1 flu virus three years ago, when the Traverse City Area Public Schools and other local districts temporarily closed to prevent further spread.

“We closed Thursday and Friday, and Monday was a professional development day,” said TCAPS Communications Director Alison Arnold. “The health department claimed the decision quelled the epidemic in the area.”

The health department joined with TCAPS that year to vaccinate students district-wide, Arnold said.

This year, students will not receive vaccines at school, although 100 staff members, or 7 percent of staff, opted for a vaccine offered in October.