The flu season is here, and experts are advising you to use face masks

In order to help protect your health during this season’s flu season, the Michigan Department of Community Health is issuing an Advisory that suggests face masks.

Flu vaccines have been available in Michigan for more than a month, and the state has reported that an unseasonable number of flu cases have been occurring. The state, along with other northern states, has been experiencing a shorter flu season than normal. Between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, FluView data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the flu season in Michigan overlaps slightly with last year, but about 40 percent of the Influenza®activity occurs during December and January.

Michigan still encourages everyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated for the flu. Proper vaccination is the best protection for people at risk of severe complications from influenza. People at risk for severe complications are:

Adults 65 years and older

Young children (up to 5 years old)

Pregnant women

Individuals with chronic medical conditions

Health care workers and other members of the health care community

People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

An individual who is at higher risk for complications from influenza due to previous illnesses, their symptoms, or because they live or work in an area with high rates of influenza-like illness (ILI). Health care providers should ask all patients at high risk for severe complications about their previously reported health conditions when they are visited by a health care provider. The Department of Community Health suggests that health care providers regularly monitor ILI statistics in their community for any community level increase in ILI, especially in people with chronic health conditions.

Current available studies by the CDC support the use of face masks when there is a disparity between anyone who needs them (high risk individuals) and the masks given to the general population. In addition, when there is a gap between people who need masks and people who receive them, people are urged to wear masks. This is because face masks can greatly improve health screening and surveillance of influenza-like illnesses.

Most children are not at risk for severe complications from influenza. However, they are at greater risk for serious flu-like illness and are advised to receive the influenza vaccine and receive flu vaccine during each flu season. If you or a child has a chronic medical condition, or you live or work in an area with high rates of influenza-like illness, you should discuss your influenza-like illness situation with your health care provider.

Please remember to wash your hands often with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer when the soap is not available.

If you have a chronic medical condition or if you are a health care provider, ask your health care provider about influenza vaccination recommendations for your particular community.

— Additional reporting by Rosemary Mapes.

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