CRAWFORD COUNTY - The influenza season is upon us, according to several local health officials who talked about the situation with Independent-Scout recently.
Michelle Breuer, the acting Crawford County Health Director, confirmed that there were an increasing number of influenza cases in the county. As of Friday, Jan. 19, there had been five confirmed hospitalizations in the county due to the flu.
Breuer said the peak of the season had not quite hit yet, according to what the department was seeing locally or by what the state was reporting.
At Crossing Rivers Healthcare, Brian Simmons, the Infection Prevention Specialist, believes the rate of influenza infection may be close to its peak
“We’re nearing the peak,” Simmons said. “How long will the peak stay with us…It could be another three weeks or it could start trending down sooner.”
At Vernon Memorial Healthcare in Viroqua, infectious disease specialist Romelle Heisel was less certain of when the peak might occur.
“It’s too soon to say,” Heisel said. “We will continue to monitor closely as the Center for Disease Control and that state health department. Weekly influenza-like reports are sent out during flu activity by the state.”
"We are in a severe year," state epidemiologist Tom Haupt told the Milwaukee journal-Sentinel last Friday. "There are a lot of states that will be in a severe year. The good news is we are getting close to peak. The bad news is we'll stay high at least three to four weeks after peak. It shouldn't get worse then, and will gradually get better."
This season's predominant strain, A (H3N2), typically hits the elderly hardest.
As to prevention, everyone agrees one of the most important things is washing hands with soap and water or and alcohol based hand sanitizer. Also, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing is important.
Crawford Public Health’s Michelle Breuer said that individuals with a fever of 100 degrees or more should stay home until that fever subsides to avoid passing the flu to others.
Local school districts are recommending any students with fevers of 100 degrees or more with respiratory symptoms be kept home.
While most confirmed cases are Type A influenza strains, the local health officials reported there were some cases of Type B being reported as well.
Flu vaccine remains available and the public is urged to get a flu shot if they have not already gotten one.
Crossing Rivers’ Brian Simmons emphasized that the effectiveness of flu vaccine in combatting the Type A H3N2 influenza strain is complicated by the “genetic drift” experienced in the strain every year. However, the infection prevention specialist emphasized that having received the flu vaccine would offer patients some degree of protection. It could also reduce the length of the illness or the severity of the symptoms, even if it did not prevent the infection entirely.
VMH’s Romelle Heisel shared her experience with influenza infections with some advice to the public.
“I cannot stress enough that prevention is key,” Heisel said. “Getting your annual seasonal influenza vaccine is most important.”
There have been recorded deaths from this year’s influenza virus both in Wisconsin and nationally.
“Unfortunately, people do still die from seasonal influenza,” Heisel said. “CDC is constantly evaluating new ideas and ways to prevent the spread of seasonal influenza.”
Heisel noted that VMH had not seen a lot of hospitalizations for flu infections yet. Most seasonal influenza at VMH was being treated in the outpatient setting.