This time of the year is often associated with Halloween season, but there is another season that has many in the medical professional worried; and that’s flu season. The 2022-2023 flu season is expected to be especially active during the fall and winter months; because Michigan experiences every season fully, so do our viruses. The virus that causes the illness is active during a time that begins in October and peaks between December and February. Cases are expected to be higher this year, especially as COVID-prevention measures like hand washing, social distancing and masking are relaxed across the country.
Seasonal flu is not just a really bad cold. It is a contagious illness that affects the nose, throat, lungs and other parts of the body. It can spread quickly from one person to another, can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The virus spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something — such as a surface or object — with the germs on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
The most recent data available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is from the 2019-2020 flu season. In that timeframe, 35 million people were estimated to have been infected. There were 16 million medical visits, 380,000 hospitalizations, and 20,000 deaths related to the illness.
Dr. Tiffany Sanford is the chief medical officer at The Wellness Plan (TWP) Medical Centers — a place that serves patients who traditionally face barriers to health care in Metro Detroit, including the uninsured and underinsured. As the organization’s lead medical practitioner, Sanford oversees TWP’s wide array of services, including pediatrics, adult/senior medicine, preventative care, dental, pharmacy, psychiatric and behavioral health services, obstetrics and gynecology services, cardiology and nutritional consultations.
BLAC: It seems as though the flu is hitting families in Metro Detroit harder than ever this year. Is that what you’re finding?
Sanford: We’re certainly finding an uptick in cases of the flu amongst our patients. The issue extends far beyond missing a couple days of school and feeling out of sorts — it can be fatal. For that reason, The Wellness Plan is encouraging the community to take extra precautions while the flu season is still in full swing.
B: Are you finding that families understand how to prevent the spread of the illness?
S: At TWP, we find that many of our patients don’t have access to the resources and information they need to prevent illnesses like the flu. A large part of our role as a community health center is providing education to patients about simple steps they can take to stay healthy. We also offer the support services many families need to get access to care.
B: What recommendations do you have for families to prevent the flu?
S: First and foremost, get the flu shot. It seems obvious, but it’s the single best step you can take to prevent the flu, and it’s not too late. Families should stick to the injectable flu shots only.
B: What other tips are important for families to keep in mind?
S: Stay away from those who are sick, disinfect surfaces regularly, and wash your hands often. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based rub to clean your hands. Practice good health habits by getting plenty of sleep, keeping up with fluids, exercising regularly and eating nutritious foods.
B: What should you do if you get the flu?
S: If you do get the flu, it’s critical to stay home from work or school to prevent spreading the disease to others. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
B: How does the flu impact the Black community, in particular?
S: Black Americans are less likely to get the flu shot at the rate of just 37 percent compared to 46 percent of white Americans (according to the CDC). This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including barriers to health care. Those same barriers to care make it all the more important to prevent the flu before it takes hold.
B: What else should the community be aware of?
S: Viruses are ever-changing. Even if you don’t usually get the flu, it’s important to take part in preventative measures and treatment, keeping yourself and those around you healthy this year.
To learn more, or to visit The Wellness Plan Medical Centers for a flu shot, visit www.wellplan.com.