Bill would require latex-using restaurants to notify customers

Capital News Service

LANSING — Restaurants that use latex gloves might be forced to notify their customers because the gloves leave traces of latex protein on food — causing allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, is sponsoring a bill that would require restaurants using latex gloves during food preparation to post a notice.

According to the American Latex Allergy Association, an estimated 3 million people in the United States are allergic to latex. Symptoms can include hives, runny nose and sneezing, headache, redness and teary eyes, and in some cases, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Inman’s bill was motivated by a constituent whose sister had a severe reaction to food that was prepared using latex gloves, said Trey Hines, his legislative director.

After looking at what some other states have done regarding latex gloves in food service, “Inman determined that requiring a posted notice was the best way of preventing something like this from happening in the future,” Hines said.

Meghan Swain, the executive director of the Michigan Association for Local Public Health, said she’s not sure how big an issue latex gloves are in Michigan.

“It’s not clear how many restaurants actually use these,” Swain said. “A lot of times they are using clear plastic or non-latex gloves.

“We knew that this bill or a version of this bill was going to come out, but I didn’t hear anything from my local health departments that this was an issue in Michigan.”

Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website says “an increasing number of consumers appear to be latex-sensitive.”

The department recognizes latex gloves as potentially harmful and advocates the use of non-latex gloves.

Other states such as Arizona, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and recently Hawaii have banned the use of latex gloves from food service processing. Lawmakers in California, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas have proposed similar legislation.

Hines said that a posted notice would inform customers while not forcing restaurants and other food service establishments to change their practices. Some food service providers consider latex gloves to be useful for slicing or chopping due to their snug fit and aid in gripping knives.

The bill is pending in the House Agriculture Committee.

Some colleges tackle homeless students’ problems

Capital News Service

LANSING – Although homeless college students have access to various types of assistance, many are reluctant to be identified as homeless because of stigma, experts say.

“There is a sense of denial about what homelessness actually is,” said Lynn Stufin, a public information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Stable housing is a stressor for many individuals,” Stufin said. “The identification that the individual is homeless may (bring) stress they are unable or unwilling to handle at that time.”

Pam Kies-Lowe, the coordinator for homeless education at the Department of Education, said,

“Lots of folks think about the homeless as bad people in the park, or they think the homeless are on the corner of an intersection with signs saying ‘homeless and hungry.’”  

However, an invisible group of homeless consists of students, Kies-Lowe said. They don’t live on the street and some of the older ones who are unaccompanied by parents stay with their friends or relatives.

The definition of homeless children and youth isn’t limited to those sleeping on the streets, but also includes lacking a regular nighttime residence, sharing housing or sleeping in places that aren’t supposed to be a regular accommodations, according to federal law.

More awareness and better identification of homeless students are needed, Kies-Lowe said.

“The whole experience of being homeless hurts their mental health a lot more than being identified, because once they are identified we connect them with the services and support they need to stay and succeed in school,” she said.

Those services typically include financial aid, housing, food and transportation.

Wayne State University launched the HIGH (Helping Individuals Go Higher) program for homeless students in 2013.

The program aims at helping homeless, precariously housed and financially challenged students to earn their degree and prevent them from dropping out because of financial problems.

“Sixty-one percent of the applicants are seniors, and so we do what we can to provide a bridge so that they graduate,” said Pearlanne Pollard, the program’s executive assistant.

“At the point, we have a 100 percent graduation rate of our seniors that come in [to the program],” Pollard said. But still, many homeless students haven’t been identified yet.

As homeless students don’t necessarily sleep on the street, “we don’t have any way of identifying them,” she said. “If they don’t apply for [the program], then we don’t know who they are.”

The HIGH program put in great efforts on reaching out to potentially homeless students through social media, flyers, deans, advisers, financial aid staff and a welcome center.

Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association, said the challenges facing homeless students are a growing concern.

“The colleges in the state are not really set up to deal with homeless students,” Hansen said. Connecting them with local agencies and organizations is better.

Colleges are educational institutions and aren’t experts on homelessness, he said. “But we are doing what we can to connect homeless students to appropriate services and service providers.”

Eastern Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College collaborate with the MORE Support program provided by Ozone House, which is a nonprofit agency based in Ypsilanti with the goal of helping young homeless people.

The MORE Support program partners with campus “coaches” to provide health care for homeless students.

Many problems cause homeless students to suffer trauma, including abuse, the disruption of care and changes in housing, said Dave Zellmer, the program’s therapist.

Partnering with colleges reduces the barrier for students who need care, Zellmer said. “The stigma around homelessness can make it hard for students to talk about that, and they might not want other people to know.”

The program isn’t about labeling homeless people but it’s about providing support for students and making sure they get what they need to succeed in school, he said.  

With the program’s mental health care, 80 percent of  participants showed reductions in traumatic stress and 75 percent demonstrated reductions in symptoms related to depression and anxiety, according to Ozone House.

They also had higher class attendance rates and higher academic achievement, the agency said.


Proposal seeks to curb laughing gas abuse

Capital News Service

LANSING – A bill awaiting Senate action would make it harder for people under 18 to misuse potentially dangerous nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas.

Commonly known as “whip-its” — small metal containers made to refill canisters in restaurants and bakeries — they give people who inhale the nitrous oxide a short-lived euphoric high, said Scott Masi an outreach and referral specialist at Brighton Center for Recovery in Brighton and the founder of the nonprofit Unite to Face Addiction.

According to Masi, whip-its can be sold at liquor stores and gas stations, available to anybody who walks in the door.

Although people of all ages can get high with nitrous oxide, it’s popular among youth because they often have a hard time getting alcohol and other drugs, said Brad Uren, a co-chair of the committee on state legislation and regulations at the Michigan State Medical Society in East Lansing.

Masi said that because of its easy accessibility, whip-its are viewed as far less harmful than they actually are.

For example, Masi went through a period of his life when he struggled with drug addiction. During that time, he did whip-its, and he said there’s not enough public understanding of their dangers.

According to Masi, the high is very short-lived so many people do a lot of inhalations in a short period of time.

According to Eden Wells, the chief medical executive at the Department of Health and Human Services, there are a myriad of negative effects.

Upon inhalation, brain cells are damaged. When the nitrous oxide is released it gets extremely cold and can result in frostbite, Wells said.

The use of whip-its has been linked to anemia, convulsions and death, she said.

And according to Wells, nitrous oxide is addictive and should be treated as such.

The bill wouldn’t eliminate other ways youth get access to nitrous oxide. According to Masi, even cans of whipped cream at the grocery store contain nitrous oxide that can be used to get high.

Sponsors of the proposal include Reps. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, and Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan.

The bill covers only containers that contain only nitrous oxide. That would leave many other ways in which people can get high in the same way.

Even so Uren, Masi and Wells all said the bill would be  a step in the right direction.

Uren said it’s important that those products are no longer sold in places where they’re obviously not going to used correctly.

“When bakery owners need to buy more supplies for their business, they aren’t going to go to a liquor store,” he said.

Uren said education is another big part of reducing the improper use of  nitrous oxide.

The bill has passed the House and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.


Train fact: more pedestrians hit outside of from crossings

Capital News Service

LANSING — The number of pedestrian deaths involving railroads is rising.

Trains killed or injured 19 trespassers in Michigan last year, though the number of vehicle-train accidents fell.

Deaths on segments of a railway other than a designated crossing–known as “trespassing”–accounted for 63 percent of rail-related fatalities in the United States between 2005 and 2016, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. More than twice as many deaths came from trespassing than from incidents at crossings.

Neither the cumulative death toll nor individual incidents from trespassing draw the level of public attention that other train-related deaths do, such as the December 2017 derailment of an Amtrak train that killed three and injured dozens south of Tacoma, Washington.

Or a 2009 accident when an Amtrak train hit a car and killed its five passengers in Canton Township. Or a March 2017 crash in Breedsville, Van Buren County, that killed the driver and injured her son when the car didn’t yield to an oncoming freight train.

Sam Crowl, the state coordinator for Michigan Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit advocacy group, said the entirety of a railroad is private property, and no railroad will allow pedestrians because of the safety risks involved.

“The reason we call them trespassers is because they’re not allowed on railroad property,” Crowl said. “They may be a pedestrian at the designated crossing, but when they walk off, they’re trespassing.”

Of the 19 trespassers hit by trains in Michigan in 2017, 13 died, Crowl said. Some survivors lost arms and legs.

Those numbers exclude incidents considered suicides — there were five last year, he said.

Patterns emerged among the dead.

“Eight of the 13 had earbuds on,” Crowl said.

The earbud-wearers had their backs to the trains when they were hit, Crowl said, and he attributed the rising number of incidents to technology that impedes hearing and pedestrians simply not paying attention.

“You can see that they did not intend to get hit by their walk,” Crowl said, referring to cameras now fixed to most trains. “If they were standing still they might feel the vibration of the train coming.”

Operation Lifesaver, which operates a branch in every state, works to reduce the number of rail-related fatalities through presentations and safety education.

The Michigan Department of Transportation discourages anyone from walking on a railroad anywhere other than at a designated crossing, media representative Michael Frezell said.

He said taking photographs on railroad tracks is relatively popular, but unsafe.

“We strongly discourage anyone from taking pictures, or walking along railroad tracks, or playing along the tracks,” Frezell said. “We don’t want to see any fatality.”

Frezell said he would like to see an initiative similar to Toward Zero Deaths — a national strategy to eliminate traffic deaths adopted by MDOT and the Michigan State Police — regarding railroad accidents.

In 1970, there were 40 rail-related deaths in Michigan involving vehicles. In last few years, Michigan has averaged nine to 10 a year, Crowl said.

“We believe that what we do has helped to reduce that number downward,” Crowl said.

Collisions involving trains and vehicles have decreased 83 percent from 1972 to 2016, a reduction of roughly 10,000 incidents per year, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics cited by Operation Lifesaver. But the number of trespassing deaths has grown, Crowl said.

“All of the incidents can be avoided simply by following the rules that already exist. However, we know people are in a hurry and don’t always follow the rules that exist,” Crowl said.

MI Operation Lifesaver’s advocacy involves going into as many schools and driver training classes as it can to share information. The group conducts free presentations.

Victims typically involved in trespassing-related incidents are between 18 and 38, and that age group is difficult to speak to in a traditional setting, Crowl said. The group is using social media to publicize hazards, in addition to billboards and radio ads.


Men, rural residents, at highest risk of suicide in Michigan

Capital News Service

LANSING – In Michigan, one person dies by suicide about every six hours.

That statistic puts the state right in the middle of a national trend.

Suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death among Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and in  2016, the national age-adjusted suicide rate reached the highest level in decades.

In Michigan the response to increasing suicide rates has been to focus on two groups overly represented: men and rural residents.

Men are four times more likely to die by suicide, and men account for 79 percent of all U.S. suicides, a CDC study found. It’s the fourth-leading cause of death among men ages 35-54.

“Men do not always recognize that they are experiencing a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or bipolar disorder,” said Courtney Miner, the program manager of Healthy Men Michigan.

The Healthy Men Michigan campaign promotes mental health among men 25-64 and is funded in collaboration with the CDC.

Male depression, a risk factor for suicide, goes undiagnosed 50-65 percent of the time, Miner said. Other risk factors among working-age men include financial problems, alcohol and drug abuse, legal problems and life stressors.

Jodi Jacobson Frey, a principal investigator of the Healthy Men Michigan Campaign Research Project, said that “unique approaches specifically tailored to the needs of this hard-to-reach population” are needed because of their unusually high risk of suicideem, coupled with their limited use of mental health resources.

The situation is worse in rural areas. A CDC study found that people are more likely to commit suicide in rural areas than in urban ones.

Sandi Stasko, a family services coordinator  at Community Mental Health of Ottawa County, said negative factors such as high unemployment and lack of treatment options in rural areas contribute to higher suicide rates.

CDC data shows Ottawa County has the second-lowest suicide rate in the state, with Leelanau County the lowest and Alcona County highest.

Stasko said her agency is committed to increasing awareness of mental health issues. In 2016, it  passed the first dedicated county-wide mental health millage in the state.

“Part of those dollars go to offering community-wide trainings on mental health first aid, QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) and other mental health topics,” Stasko said. It also developed a Facebook page as a community resource on mental health.

Though the community provides multiple mental health treatment options including community and private providers, “transportation, especially in rural areas of Ottawa County, can make treatment difficult to obtain,” she said.

Patricia Smith, the violence prevention program coordinator of Department of Health and Human Services, said transportation is a big hurdle to accessing mental health services. She is working on a project to provide Upper Peninsula residents access to services.

“It’s an enormous issue,” Smith said, “not wholly in Michigan, but certainly in Michigan.”

Robert Moore, a professional counselor at Community Mental Health of Allegan County, said residents have a choice as to whether to seek services when experiencing mental health problems. “Some choose not to due to insurance costs or coverage.

“There is a lack of psychiatric care available to all consumers regardless of insurance, as well as other mental health options such as case management or other related services, ” Moore said.

According to Moore, the greatest challenge in rural areas is that community health agencies tend to be the only major local mental health provider “but they are restricted by state and federal guidelines as to who can be eligible for services.”

A stigma still surrounds seeking treatment and it’s stronger among men than women, research shows. Studies demonstrate that men have a general unwillingness to acknowledge mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, and are less likely to seek available services.

Miner, of Healthy Men Michigan, said that even when depression is identified, men may be reluctant to ask for help, communicate their inner feelings or form groups around emotional issues.

“Gender socialization, including traditionally masculine stereotypes, also play a role in men’s behavior in seeking treatment,” Miner said.

The campaign is designed to reduce barriers to getting help by decreasing stigma, increasing social support and providing appropriate, convenient and effective referrals for treatment.

It also provides free online screening for problems including suicide.

According to Miner, so far, more than 3,850 individuals have visited the website ( for a screening. Over half have been men in their working years and about half screen positively for suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Miner said current programs often struggle to reach out to and engage men in their middle years who are at higher risk for suicide.

Funding is always a problem with implementation of suicide prevention programs, Stasko said.

Moore said that community mental health services have been dealing with funding cuts or funding freezes for some time now. “The strain is placed on staff who see increased caseloads.”

But the impact of suicide prevention programs can be limited by staffing levels and funding, he said.

New techniques and concepts are shared to support mental health needs, and staff are encouraged and required to attend professional development each year, Moore said. However, “as always, there are cost restrictions that prevent our staff from accessing cutting-edge clinical trainings, and therapeutic techniques are tailored to each individual as appropriate.”

Miner said suicide prevention programs are often underfunded and have difficulty reaching men in rural areas where resources are even more scarce.

Technology offers some promise to rural residents, and options for treatment via the internet, webcam and phone are available, said Stasko, but “not covered by many insurances companies, policies or plans.”

For those with suicidal thoughts, Stasko advised, “Ask for help, and keep asking until the right help is found.”

Miner said people with suicidal thoughts want to hear stories of hope, recovery and resilience. A mix of social support to reduce isolation is critical to minimize depression and prevent suicide.


Hepatitis C hits prisons hard

Capital News Service

LANSING —  As the opioid epidemic has spread, so has hepatitis C.  

Cases in Michigan rose faster than the national average from 2015 to 2016, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The effects can be seen throughout Michigan but most prominently in prisons where, according to the National Hepatitis Corrections Network, hepatitis C poses a significant health threat

There are currently about 2,700 reported cases of hepatitis C in Michigan correctional facilities, said Holly Kramer, a communications representative at the Department of Corrections. That’s 7 percent of the inmate population.

And that raises health and financial concerns for employees and administrators.

The contagious disease spreads through blood-to-blood contact and attacks the liver. It spreads most often when people share needles to inject drugs. It can also be spread through tattoo needles, tattoo ink, piercings and sexual activity.

Joe Coyle, manager of viral hepatitis infections at the Department of Health and Human Services, said that because law enforcement agencies target hard drug users, those with addictions often end up in prison.

With even fewer resources for drug use in prison, inmates share needles more often, making hepatitis C easier to spread.

“The liver is considered a non-complaining organ because you don’t feel pain when something is wrong with it,” said Jacqueline Dominguez, executive director of the American Liver Foundation Great Lakes Division. “That is why it is called the silent epidemic.”

Untreated hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

According to the Liver Foundation, once a person develops cirrhosis, scar tissue begins to replace regular liver tissue, blocking blood flow.

For those without insurance, the medicine for hepatitis C can cost as much as  $1,000 per daily pill for an 8-to-12 week treatment. Foundations may help lower the cost, but it can still be a burden, Dominguez said.

Young adults are hit the hardest as cases among those between 18 and 29 rose 473 percent from 2005 to 2016 in Michigan

According to Health and Human Services, 84.2 percent of patients in Michigan in the same age group reported injecting drugs.

Anita Lloyd, the communications director of the Michigan Corrections Organization, said,

“Inmates deserve quality medical care, and that includes hepatitis C treatment. Nourishing food and adequate medical care are two factors that go a long way in maintaining the safety, security and stability of prisons for inmates and staff alike.”

The organization is the union that represents corrections officers.

The Corrections Department’s Kramer said the average cost per prisoner for the treatment o is $25,815. In the past year, about 390 prisoners completed treatment with a 96 percent success rate.

The department receives $16.9 million per year to treat hepatitis C, Kramer said. That enables it t to treat at least 350 inmates, a number that represents fewer than  20 percent of those infected.

Coyle, of Health and Human Services, said prevention is key for protecting the health of prison staff and other inmates but that goal comes with challenges.

“Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C,”  Coyle said.

The best way to avoid its spread is avoiding contact with other people’s blood, he said. And  most effective way for drug users to avoid the disease is through stopping drug use altogether, but that’s not easy for addicts.

The Liver Foundation recommends counseling and rehabilitation. That can lower the spread and the rate of reinfection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Liver Foundation have resources for those affected by hepatitis C, including educational materials and help finding medical assistance.

Slight uptick in cell phone fees would boost 9-1-1 service

Capital News Service

LANSING — If you call a 9-1-1 operator in Michigan on a cell phone, that operator may soon be able to better  pinpoint your location.

A bill working its way through the Legislature would raise the cost of monthly cell phone plans to provide money to improve 9-1-1 service.

“The 9-1-1 system in Michigan is right out of money and it’s ready to collapse,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, the sponsor of the bill.

“9-1-1 in most counties is set up to find landlines, and landlines seem to be going away with the dinosaur as more and more people switch to cell phones only. So we must have the technology so we can find where somebody is who is calling for help from a cell phone,” Jones said.  

The increase in phone bills, however, would be minimal, adding just 6 cents per month for each line.

“If you have a contract to have a phone, it would go – currently it’s 19 cents per device and it would go to 25,” Jones said. “Basically, we’re talking about the average person that gets contracted to 72 cents more a year. That’s not much for the safety of being able to call and get help when they need it.”

Overall, the higher fee would bring in $48.8 million a year, up from $28.5 million, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

“I think that 6 cents is probably worth the possibility of saving a life,” Traverse City resident Matt Fisher said.

“Also, I don’t think that the bill would be proposed if there was not a significant benefit that law enforcement saw as necessary,” Fisher said.

The Senate approved the bill and sent it to the House Committee on Communication and Technology. Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland, cast the only no vote on the committee. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote.

Jones said, “Many times, someone who calls 9-1-1, they can be having a heart attack, they can be in a car accident, some horrible situation and they’re not able to tell the operator where they’re at. With this additional funding, it will ensure that the technology is throughout the state, and 9-1-1 can find somebody and, hopefully, get the proper people there to save them.”

Some Michigan residents may actually see a decrease on their phone bills if the legislation   becomes law.

Scott Stevenson, the president of the Telecommunications Association of Michigan, said, “Our overall opinion is this bill takes care of an important funding issue related to next-generation 9-1-1, and without it Michigan counties would have a more difficult time transitioning to that new, more advanced network.”

The bill, if passed, would move the technical surcharge fee on all phone bills to a statewide basis.

Although the proposal would raise the state surcharge, another change would lower other surcharges, Stevenson said.

“So for many customers, particularly in rural Michigan, they’re going to see a net decrease on their surcharge,” he said.

Do Great Lakes fungi hold the key to a cancer cure?

Capital News Service

LANSING — A cure to childhood cancer may be hidden in fungus discovered at the bottom of the Great Lakes and nurtured on Cheerios.

While the breakfast cereal came from Walmart, the fungi were found in the Michigan’s submerged backyard: the bottom of the Great Lakes — which until recently have been hardly touched in the world of fungal research.

“I was shocked when I started doing the background research looking through the Great Lakes, and just thinking ‘holy crap, there’s basically nothing known about this,’” said Robert Cichewicz, a natural products professor at the University of Oklahoma. “That was just mind-boggling. One of the biggest freshwater sources on Earth and no one knew what its fungal component was.

“A whole kingdom of life missing.”

What led Cichewicz and other researchers, including one from Grand Valley State University, to suspect the secret to fighting pediatric cancer may be found in this hidden world started more than four years ago.

The National Institutes of Health awarded them $2.5 million to research a cancer cure. The money that wasn’t necessarily intended for fungi research. But both Cichewicz and his colleague, pharmacology professor Susan Mooberry, saw cancer-fighting potential in fungi because of its presence in life-saving drugs like penicillin and statin.

“I think they are the most brilliant chemists on earth,” Cichewicz said. “They make amazing molecules for their own purposes of course, it just so happens we as humans can hijack them for other purposes.”

Cichewicz assembled a team that included Mooberry of the University of Texas Health Science Center and Grand Valley State ecologist Mark Luttenton, who is Cichewicz’s former mentor.

Members of the team were each assigned roles to tackle the unknown Great Lakes regions and learn what secrets they held.

With access to research vessels, Luttenton and volunteers made trips to parts of lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. They dropped a giant scoop called a Ponar dredge into the lake bed and collected whatever sediment lay at the bottom.

Then the sediment was divided up and mailed to both Andrew Miller and Robert’s Cichewicz’s labs for testing, Luttenton said. There the spores were isolated and grown.

That’s where the Cheerios come in.

“They grow great on it,” Cichewicz said. “They make tons of natural products. The fungi are very happy to be on it.”

The natural products—the chemical compounds found in fungi that are used in medicine — were then shipped to Mooberry’s lab, where she pitted them against cancer cells.

Toxins that kill everything have been studied quite a bit, Mooberry said. “We’re looking at things that have selectivity.”

The researchers want toxins that kill only cancer cells. After enough testing, they found one — a fungal toxin that eliminates only cancer cells associated with a rare type of the disease that grows on the bones of adolescents.

“We’ve come up with a lead for Ewing’s sarcoma that we’re pretty excited about,” Mooberry said. Lots of work lies ahead, but “even if we don’t discover the next drug, we could discover a target that people can then make molecules for.”

There’s another benefit to the study apart from the laboratory research. Before Luttenton’s digging, 13 fungal species had been identified in the Great Lakes. By the end of his 200 digs, that number had climbed to 460, a boon for the fungi database.

Every time the scoop completed an excavation, several environmental factors were also documented, Luttenton said. Such measures as temperature, depth and available oxygen were recorded in hopes of discovering a pattern to the fungal types growing below.

The question Luttenton said the team pursued: “Can we better predict where we can expect higher fungal diversity, knowing what ecological conditions might be more conducive?”

Despite the optimism, the research has yet to emerge past the discovery stage. The journey toward a marketed cure for cancer is far from certain.

“Our chance is one in a thousand,” Mooberry said. “When we get something we think is really good, it’s still one in a thousand that it will get to the clinics. The bar is very high, but you know, you don’t know until you go out there.”

Jack Nissen writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Flu cases in Michigan highest in recent years

Capital News Service

LANSING — The flu season is in full effect, and this year it’s reaching more of the population than usual.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, 45,521 patients have been treated for influenza over the last four weeks.

“In Michigan, we are seeing a lot more cases, hearing about a lot more cases of the flu through our surveillance systems,” said Lynn Sutfin, a department press officer.

“It’s not unusual that the season starts to revamp after the holidays — people come back to work, come back to school. They’re getting into these congregate settings where there’s a bunch of people in one area, so that’s how that spreads,” Sutfin said.

Last year 420,603 people were diagnosed with the flu in Michigan, and that number is continuing to rise each year.

In 2014, there were 288,807 reported cases. In 2015, that number increased, topping 305,000. In 2016, the number jumped by almost 30,000 to 335,599.

While the flu season has commenced, Sutfin said it’s not too late to get the flu vaccine.

“Any protection is better than none,” she said. “The flu vaccine is your best defense from the flu.

“My other tip is — if you’re sick, stay home. Do not spread the germs to others. I know everybody’s busy, but the best thing you can do to take care of yourself and others is to stay home and get rest.”

Sam McCoy was one of the thousands of people to be treated with the flu this season.

“I had bad symptoms for three days — really sore throat, headache, fatigue and congestion,” she recalled. “Then I saw the doctor after two days. They prescribed me with Tamiflu. From them, my symptoms got a lot better, but my sore throat lingered for about a week.”

Aislynn Stocks, a combat medic in the Army National Guard and a licensed EMT, said it’s vital to avoid contact with those who are sick and to get rest when sick.

“If you see someone who is sick, you should always avoid contact with them,” she said. “You need to ensure you are practicing good health habits, especially eating well, getting enough sleep and drinking adequate amounts of fluids.

Sutfin said she believes the arrival of the H3N2 virus is the predominant reason that is spreading to more people than usual this season.

“Every flu season is different,” she said. “This season is one that is being dominating by the H3N2 virus, which is a more severe form of the flu, so when you get that virus, and that virus is more predominant, you obviously see a lot more cases, a lot more hospitalizations, a lot more people getting sick.”

As of the latest weekly influenza surveillance report, which was published on Jan. 19, no pediatric deaths have been confirmed to Health and Human Services during the 2017-18 flu season. However, 30 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported across the nation.

If you start to feel sick, Sutfin stresses the importance of staying at home, getting rest and seeking medical treatment if needed.

“Obviously, when you get the flu, you’re going to have body aches,” she said. “You’re going to have a fever, upper-respiratory issues, possibly some stomach issues. In most cases, you’ll feel better in a few days. People know their own bodies, so if you’re not feeling well, if this is the worst you’ve ever felt, go to your doctor.”