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Low flu vaccination rate in Michigan despite serious flu threat

By Samantha Celera

About a dozen flu patients have been in intensive care at  University of Michigan hospitals on any given day since the new year began. Some are on advanced life support. Most are middle-aged.  And most have the H1N1 strain of flu.

Michigan has seen a flood of H1N1 flu cases in the last few weeks.

That's according to Dr. Matthew Davis,  Chief Medical Executive with the Michigan Department of Community Health.

He says that previously healthy  young and middle-aged adults are at particularly high-risk for H1N1 flu.  But unfortunately this group is less likely than children and older people to get vaccinated.

Davis says everyone over six months old should protect themselves with a flu shot – and it's not too late. He says flu shots take effect within two weeks, and the flu season could last for several months.

"Flu is nothing to mess with. And we're seeing that this year, with the severe illnesses in previously healthy individuals and a situation where we actually have a vaccine that is perfectly matched to the strains that are going around. There is no more effective vaccine than the one we have this year."

According to the Trust for America's Health, Michigan does not stack up well against other states when it comes to getting flu shots. During last year's flu season, 32.2 percent of Michigan adults aged 18 to 64 were vaccinated for flu. Only 5 other states had lower vaccination rates.  Michigan's vaccination rate last year for everyone over 6 months of age was 40.8 percent; this tied Michigan with Mississippi, both ranking 41 out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

College students are particularly vulnerable to flu because of close living quarters, Davis said. But last year only about 5 percent got flu shots.

The Trust for America's Health reported that in addition to the serious health risks posed by the flu, nationwide it contributes to about $10.4 billion in direct health care costs and expenses associated with worker absenteeism. The Trust said one in five Americans get the flu each year – an average of 62 million people.

Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom