MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES -- A new report recently has shown Michigan is the second-sickest state in the U.S.

According to Kinsa, 6.89% of the state population is experiencing flu-like symptoms, ranking Michigan second in illness after Georgia, where 7.78% of the population is experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Kinsa, a health technology company that uses smart thermometers to track sickness across the country, also reported national illness levels currently are at 5.05%. This shows an increase in national illness since last year, when only 2.67% of the national population showed signs of flu-like illness, Kinsa stated in a recent report.

In both Mecosta and Osceola counties, officials said they also were seeing an increased number of flu or ILI (influenza-like illness) patients.

Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals Communications Specialist Danielle Wells said a record-breaking number of people have shown up to their walk-in clinics this flu season.

"We can confirm we have seen increased illness visits for our walk-in clinics," Wells said, adding that on Dec. 30, the Big Rapids clinic saw 89 patients while the Reed City clinic saw 62 patients.

Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals Infection Preventionist Amy Montross also noted the increase in influenza and ILI patients in the area.

"In the last two weeks, we have seen a significant increase earlier this year than last year," she said.

Montross explained flu patterns can be predicted by patterns in Australia, as flu season occurs in Australia before it hits the U.S.

This year, with Australia showing an increase in flu and ILI patients, Montross said it is no surprise we are seeing such a large increase in illness across the state.

"The flu season in Australia usually spans from June to September and peaks in August. In 2019, there was an increase in flu activity March through May and the season peaked in June and July," she said, noting this was an indicator that it also would hit earlier and more severely in the U.S.

During the last flu season, she said Spectrum Health saw illness increase in locals around February, but this flu season, it happened earlier than usual in December.

Montross said those who fear they have been in contact with someone with the flu should watch for common symptoms, which include fever, cough, runny nose and body aches.

"It looks different for everyone," she said. "For some people it's mild, for some it's more severe."

While the flu virus is spreading much faster this year, Montross said there still is plenty of time for locals to get their flu vaccines.

Montross said anyone six months and older is eligible to receive the flu vaccine and it is safe for most people, including pregnant women. However, she said those with severe egg allergies are recommended to speak with their doctor before receiving the vaccine, as it is egg-based.

While Montross said the best way to prevent flu symptoms is through receiving the vaccine, other ways to prevent the spreading of illness include practicing proper hand hygiene.

She said it is recommended for individuals to wash their hands for at least 15 seconds and use hand sanitizer regularly.

Additionally, people should be covering their mouths when coughing and making sure to wipe down surfaces that can become contaminated with germs.

Those experiencing flu-like symptoms or who are in need of a flu vaccination may visit Spectrum Health's walk-in clinics, at Reed City and Big Rapids hospitals. They are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Reed City clinic also is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.