Health officials: Flu outbreak moderately severe as activity reaches high level statewide

Just ahead of the New Year, there's a spike in the number of people going to the hospital because of the flu across the country and in Wisconsin.

The Centers for Disease Control reports 36 states, including Wisconsin, report widespread flu activity. Widespread means that more than 50 percent of a state's counties are reporting flu activity.

So far this season, more than 1,100 people statewide have been hospitalized with flu-like illnesses.

A map from the CDC shows the Badger State in red, which is an indication of high influenza activity. Of the statewide hospitalizations, local health officials say about 20 percent are in the city of Milwaukee.

Numbers from the City of Milwaukee Health Department show 224 people were in the hospital as of Sunday, Dec. 28. Officials say that is more than double what they see this time of year.

For that reason, Milwaukee's director of disease control, Paul Biedrzycki, is calling the outbreak "moderately severe." The virus is particularly hitting hard those people who are 50 years old and older. More than two-thirds of the elderly make up state hospitalizations.

Officials say more people are getting sick this year because the vaccine is not a perfect match to fight the flu strain that mutated or drifted.

The drifted strain tends to cause more severe symptoms too and officials warn the worst could be yet to come.

"I fully expect those numbers to increase due to the lag in reporting and the continued spread of flu in our community," said Biedrzycki. "It's reaching it's peak, if it's not there already, and that will continue for the coming couple of weeks. "

Despite its efficacy, it's still recommended to get the flu shot. The flu season can last as long as April, so it's not too late to get vaccinated. Also, it's just as important to practice good hygiene. For example, washing your hands often, covering your cough and staying at home if you're sick.

So far, the CDC says 15 children have died from the flu. There have been no flu-related deaths in Wisconsin. Local health officials say they will continue monitoring activity in hopes of keeping it that way.
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