Influenza is sweeping the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus, with 528 cases diagnosed at the University Health Service since Oct. 6.
The outbreak is so sudden and large — 313 cases were identified the week of Nov. 8 alone and 37% of flu tests that week were positive — that it’s drawn the attention of federal health leaders.
Among those who’ve contracted flu at U-M this fall, 77% didn’t get a flu vaccine. The cases were identified as influenza A (H3N2), said Lindsey Mortenson, UHS medical director and acting executive director.
“While we often start to see some flu activity now, the size of this outbreak is unusual,” said Juan Luis Marquez, medical director at the Washtenaw County Health Department. “We’re grateful for the additional support of the CDC and our ongoing partnership with the university as we look more closely at the situation.”
Malaria could stop an army in its tracks. In 413 BC, at the height of the disastrous Sicilian Expedition, malaria sucked the life out of the Athenian army as it lay siege to Syracuse. Athens never recovered from its losses and fell to the Spartans in 404 BC.
But while malaria helped to destroy the Athenians, it provided the Roman Republic with a natural barrier against invaders. The infested Pontine Marshes south of Rome enabled successive generations of Romans to conquer North Africa, the Middle East and Europe with some assurance they wouldn’t lose their own homeland. Thus, the spread of classical civilization was carried on the wings of the mosquito. In the 5th century, though, the blessing became a curse as the disease robbed the Roman Empire of its manpower.
Throughout the medieval era, malaria checked the territorial ambitions of kings and emperors. The greatest beneficiary was Africa, where endemic malaria was deadly to would-be colonizers. The conquistadors suffered no such handicap in the New World.
Federal flu maps use a traffic-light color scheme — green when flu is low, yellow when it’s medium and red when it’s high. Here in Massachusetts and around the country, the maps would normally show plenty of yellow and red by February. But this year they’re pure green.
And it’s not just flu that’s low. Dr. Eileen Costello, the chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, says it’s other viruses as well.
“We have seen dramatically reduced rates of influenza this year and respiratory synctitial virus, which is a viral infection of infants and very young children that we see,” she says. “It’s the meat and potatoes of every pediatric practice in America, and we’re not seeing it at all this year.