TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan reported two pediatric deaths Friday, the first from this year’s flu season.

The children were from Shiawassee and Wayne counties and were infected with Influenza B, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Nationally, 32 children have died during the 2019-20 flu season.

“What we’re seeing right now is widespread activity across the country and also across Michigan and in northwest Michigan,” said Dr. Joshua Meyerson, medical director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

Reports of positive flu swabs from area hospitals are on the rise for both Influenza A and Influenza B, Meyerson said. Reports of flu in area schools have not started coming in yet, but students just returned to school this week, he said.

Meyerson said Influenza A can be more severe in seniors, while Influenza B can be more severe in young adults.

Christine Guitar, executive director of communications for the Traverse City school district, said the district is so far not seeing significant absences. But everything she’s hearing from the state health department says that it’s coming, she said.

In the meantime the district is being proactive. They are encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently, doing some extra cleaning in classrooms and on the buses, and encouraging parents to keep their children home if they are sick.

In addition, Guitar said, the district offers flu shots for its staff every fall.

Matt Olson, superintendent of Benzie Central Schools, said the numbers of students out sick are a little bit higher than normal, but it’s not a major issue. At the high school and middle school, about 10 percent of students were out sick on Friday, while about 5 percent were out at the elementary schools.

Some kids are missing multiple days, which could be indicative of the flu, Olson said.

Nationally, there have been 32 influenza-associated child deaths reported for the 2019-2020 flu season.

In the 2018-19 flu season, 136 children died from the virus, four of them in Michigan, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Including adults, there were 34,200 flu deaths last season.

“The reality is anybody can get really sick from influenza,” he said. “It’s here. It comes every year. It’s a little earlier this year, but January is not an untypical time to see influenza.”

The flu vaccine is the best protection against the disease, and while it’s not 100 percent effective, for those who do get sick, the vaccine can reduce the severity of symptoms, he said.

Handwashing — especially before eating — is also very important in preventing it’s spread, he said.

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