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“It’s a tough year:” Doctors, officials battle spike in flu cases in Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – Health officials and doctors are warning people to take steps in order to prevent an already bad flu season from getting worse.

The number of hospitalizations this season is well ahead of last year’s pace, which is concerning for doctors.

“We hope we’re at the peak,” said Dr. Michael Foley, an emergency physician at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. “But the peak can last a week, or it can last a month.”

Data from the Department of Health Services show that there have been 459 hospitalizations from the flu so far this year. That’s three times the number of cases during the same time last season. On top of that 11 people in Wisconsin have died from complications from the flu.

Doctors say the daily battle in hospitals is more severe this season than in the past.

“Cases are coming in at sort of at the epidemic proportion level right now in the emergency department,” Dr. Foley told CBS 58.

Officials with the Department of Health Services said this season has seen the flu not just affect vulnerable populations like infants and the elderly, but younger populations as well.

“We’re seeing more intensive care admissions with people [ages] 18-49 and 50-64,” said Thomas Haupt, the Influenza Surveillance Coordinator with DHS. “Usually it’s about two-thirds of our hospitalizations that are admitted to ICU are over 65, that’s approximately one-third this year.”

It’s still too early to determine why this season is particularly severe, but health experts note that flu seasons are difficult to predict.

Haupt said it is still to be determined if Wisconsin is at the peak of flu season, or if that has yet to be reached. DHS will continue monitoring the situation week-by-week and look for a decrease in hospitalizations in order to know if the state is trending in a positive direction.

Both Dr. Foley and Haupt recommend Wisconsinites take steps to ensure an already bad season doesn’t get worse. That includes monitoring symptoms and taking off from work or keeping children from school if you or a child has the flu; taking preventative measures like washing hands and using hand sanitizer; but most importantly, officials say people should get a flu shot if they have not already done so.

“I can’t stress enough people getting the vaccination, not just for themselves but for other people as well,” said Haupt.

Dr. Foley echoed those sentiments and added, “It might be the difference between keeping you out of the hospital versus in the hospital if you get the flu shot.”

More information from the DHS is available here.

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