University of Michigan flu outbreak: Where things stand as CDC investigation continues

Holidays are a cause for concern

The flu outbreak at the University of Michigan now numbers 760 cases since Oct. 6

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The flu outbreak at the University of Michigan now numbers 760 cases since Oct. 6. A CDC response team arrived last week and is still investigating the outbreak.

Each week, Local 4 checks in with Minute Clinics around Southeast Michigan to gather information for the What’s Going Around report.

The Minute Clinic on South State Street in Ann Arbor was the first to report a dramatic increase in flu cases. Nurse Practitioner Sean Sullivan said a student first alerted them to the fact that the flu was spreading. He said lots of students are coming in to get tested.

“Normally kids would just be staying home -- where, with the current environment, kids are a little more concerned about the symptoms so they do come in to rule out flu vs. COVID,” Sullivan said.

This is not the first time the university has experienced an early outbreak of the flu. There was an outbreak in 2019 before COVID was in Michigan.

Sullivan was surprised to hear the CDC was sending a team to investigate.

“It’s a good sample to study the flu shot and just, in general, to see what’s going on and it’s a good predictor of the season, how the rest of the flu season is going to go,” Sullivan.

The university has reported that 77% of flu cases so far have been in unvaccinated students. Sullivan said the outbreak has increased interest in preventing the flu.

“On Saturday, pretty much all I did was give out flu shots,” Sullivan said.

The University of Michigan cases have been identified as the H3N2 strain of influenza. That’s concerning because we tend to see more hospitalizations and deaths in years where that strain of flu is the dominant one.

The H3N2 strain also tends to mutate faster than other strains, which means people may have less immunity from previous years or the flu vaccine may be a less precise match. That remains to be seen but is something the CDC team is looking at closely.

There’s never a good time for a flu outbreak, but just before the holidays is a particularly bad one.

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.