MARQUETTE - The flu season so far has been brutal in the central Upper Peninsula - especially for senior citizens.
"We have seen a significant rise on cases of the flu in our seniors," said Jane Palmer, coordinator of the Marquette Senior Citizens Center. "Attendance for our activities has been lower during the month of December going into January."
Forsyth Township Senior Citizens Center Director Julie Shaw agreed.
Gisela Mendlovics, 88, receives a flu shot from Andrea Trimmingham, a physician assistant with Doctors On Call, a medical care agency for homebound patients, recently, in Brooklyn, N.Y. So far this season, more than 19,000 cases of influenza have been reported in New York, compared with some 4,400 positive lab tests reported in the 2011-2012 season. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
"The flu has impacted our community immensely," Shaw said. "We have lost many senior friends in our community lately, and one that I know of due to flu-related complications."
Nationally, the number of older people hospitalized with the flu has risen sharply, prompting federal officials to take unusual steps to make more flu medicines available and to urge wider use of them as soon as symptoms appear.
The U.S. is about halfway through this flu season, and "it's shaping up to be a worse-than-average season" and a bad one for the elderly, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The government doesn't keep a running tally of adult deaths from the flu, but estimates that it kills about 24,000 people most years.
So far, half of confirmed flu cases are in people 65 and older. Lab-confirmed flu hospitalizations totaled 19 for every 100,000 in the population, but 82 per 100,000 among those 65 and older, "which is really quite a high rate," Frieden said.
Both Shaw and Palmer hope seniors who haven't already done so will consider getting a flu shot.
"Flu shots are still available," Palmer said. "Contact your doctor or the Marquette County Health Department."
Shaw said: "My advice: It is not too late to get the flu shot. Please do so. I go for mine this Thursday."
Not exposing others to the illness is important, Palmer said.
"We are advising those who think they might have the flu, or those seniors that aren't feeling well to stay home," she said. "If their symptoms persist, we are strongly advising them to see their doctors."
Seniors who are down with the flu can use some tender loving care from friends and family, Shaw said.
"When you know of someone that has the flu - please reach out and ask if they have any needs. Check with them often - make sure they are getting plenty of fluids such as Gatorade," she said. "Homemade soup and crackers would be very nice. I had the flu and I lived on soup. You just don't have an appetite, but must eat to keep up strength.
"This IS a bad (flu). It takes a lot out of you and three weeks later I am still recuperating."
"If you know of a senior who is down with the flu, check in with them. See if they need anything - even if it's a friendly phone visit."
This year's flu season started about a month earlier than normal and the dominant flu strain is one that tends to make people sicker. Vaccinations are recommended for anyone 6 months or older. There's still plenty of vaccine - an update shows that 145 million doses have been produced.
About 129 million doses have been distributed already, and a million doses are given each day, Frieden said.
The vaccine is not perfect but "it's by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza," he said.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.