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Why the CDC is investigating a massive, unusual flu outbreak

A massive flu outbreak at the University of Michigan has raised eyebrows at the CDC

University of Michigan students watch the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
University of Michigan students watch the first half of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021.
Paul Sancya, Associated Press

A massive flu outbreak has erupted at the University of Michigan, leading to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • The university said the outbreak began in early October.
  • Cases soared last week, jumping from 313 to 528 during the week of Nov. 8 alone, according to the university.

Why is the CDC investigating the flu outbreak?

The CDC has decided to investigate the outbreak to understand why the virus is spreading so quickly at the school, according to People magazine.

  • Investigators hope to learn about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.

Lindsey Mortenson, the university's health services medical director and acting executive director, said in a statement that the investigation will help people prepare for the flu season.

  • “Partnering with the CDC will accelerate our understanding of how this flu season may unfold regionally and nationally in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mortenson said.

Is this a sign of the 2021 flu season?

The flu season often starts in the U.S. around September. “But the uncharacteristic size and spread of this outbreak at this point of the year was enough to prompt Michigan officials to call the CDC,” according to Gizmodo.

Indeed, health officials believe this outbreak could be a sign of things to come in the 2021 flu season.

  • “While we often start to see some flu activity now, the size of this outbreak is unusual,” Juan Luis Marquez, a medical director with the Washtenaw County Health Department, said in the university statement.
  • “This outbreak doesn’t necessarily have an immediate impact on the broader local community, but it does raise concerns about what the flu season may bring,” Marquez said.