Lansing, Mich. (FREEP) A central Michigan infant has died of H1N1 as flu season begins to sweep the state and public health officials step up their calls for vaccination.
Earlier today, the Michigan Department of Community Health upgraded the level of flu activity from "local" to "regional" because flu cases have been reported throughout more areas of the state. The uptick of cases reflects a national surge as well, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"H1N1 seems to be rearing its ugly head this year," said Bob Swanson, director of the immunization division of the Michigan Department of Community Health. "We want to head that off, and the only way to do that is with the vaccine."
Last season, flu killed seven Michigan children, the highest number since 2004, when reporting such deaths became mandatory.
And public health officials said they've noticed that H1N1, one of the most widely circulated strains this year, seems to target young and middle-age adults - a demographic that might feel immune to the worst effects of flu.
Very often, flu season is most deadly for the very young, elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.
The actual number of flu cases is impossible to know. Most aren't required to be reported.
But at least 45 people had been hospitalized for suspected flu by today in eight Michigan hospitals that report data as part of the state's surveillance effort.
As holiday gatherings continue, those numbers are expected to increase.
"We really encourage people to stay home over the holidays if they're sick, but that's the time people don't want to miss out on visiting," said Oakland County's health officer, Kathy Forzley.
"We're probably still on the upswing of cases," said Susan Peters, a state epidemiologist.
Last year, about 40.8% of Michiganders older than 6 months were vaccinated, lower than the national average of 45%, the state health department's Swanson said.
This year, at least 3.3 million doses of the flu vaccine have been shipped to Michigan, far short of what is needed to boost the vaccination rate even to the national average, though more can be shipped, Swanson said.
At least 1.7 million were administered by Dec. 20 - about 260,000 more than by the same time in 2012, Swanson said.
"Here's my fear: We wait too long," he said, noting that the vaccine takes 10 days to two weeks to be effective.
Vaccination rates usually peak in October, and health providers - struggling to keep up with packed waiting rooms and routine appointments - are less likely to continue to encourage vaccines later in the season, he said.
One of the seven children who died had been vaccinated, and two were too young to be vaccinated, according to a state report.
Health officials would not release details about the infant who died, including an age or in what county the child lived, although they did say the child was not vaccinated nor had underlying health conditions.
Also in central Michigan, at least one school reported several cases of influenza-like symptoms - high fevers, respiratory problems and coughing - though a lab did not confirm the virus, Peters said.