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Flu Already Hitting Wisconsin Seniors Hard

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Although flu season probably won't peak in Wisconsin until mid-February, it's already got a strong foothold, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Most of the cases so far are in the southern part of the state, with the Fox Cities and western Wisconsin not yet reporting many cases. "We went from about 30-some cases the prior week to up to about 120 this past week, so it's almost a four-fold increase," points out Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator for the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. "Our hospitalizations have also increased significantly, especially amongst the elderly population, meaning those over 65. So, we're definitely in the acceleration stage of the flu."

Haupt recommends frequent hand washing, staying home when you're sick, and drinking plenty of fluids to help prevent spreading the flu virus. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other major medical groups recommend a flu vaccine for anyone over six months of age, some opt against it because of concerns the flu shot may not be effective, or because of additives in some vaccines, such as a mercury-based preservative. The flu vaccine administered by nasal spray is preservative-free. Developers also say they've adjusted the vaccine to make it more effective against flu strains expected to affect the population this year.

According to Haupt, the predominant flu strain, known as AH3, is one that tends to hit hard. "The type of virus is actually a virus that hits the elderly population and affects the elderly population more so than the younger population," he points out. "Historically, it's also one of the more powerful, more potent viruses as well. So, it's definitely on the rise in Wisconsin."

Haupt is hesitant to predict if this flu season will be worse or better than average, and says health officials won't really know until the middle of February.

Wisconsin News Connection is here.

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