Hospital admissions soar as flu hits hard

Clinics, hospitals busy dealing with tough season blamed in part on mild weather
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

More than 300 people have been hospitalized with the flu statewide so far this season, and the urgent care clinics and emergency room at Aurora Health Care’s Ozaukee County facilities have been bustling.

The number of hospitalizations, as reported by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, is “half the total of the entire flu season last year, and it’s only January,” Stephanie Maves, a family care physician at the health care center’s Port Washington clinic, said Tuesday.

Last year, she said, 550 people were hospitalized for flu.

“It’s been a big season so far,” Maves said. “The flu is unpredictable.”

And while many people consider the flu to be an inconvenience, it can be deadly. The state Department of Health recently reported 11 people in Wisconsin have died from the flu this season. 

Part of the reason for the spike in the number of cases may be the unseasonably warm weather, Maves said. People aren’t staying home and out of the cold, instead going out where they can encounter the virus. 

Of those hospitalized, 89 were children younger than 18, 105 people ages 18 to 49, 98 people 50 to 64 and 167 people 65 and older, Maves said

“That’s a lot,” she said. 

She noted that the first of her patients to be hospitalized was admitted in early October, the earliest it’s occurred in 14 years. 

Many of those hospitalized are at high risk of getting pneumonia or, particularly with younger patients, whose immune systems are overwhelmed by the flu virus, Maves said.

“The flu virus is good at overwhelming the immune system, particularly in the young,” she said.

The flu season, which began Sept. 1, has come earlier than usual, Maves said, and it’s struck hard.

Most of those afflicted have Influenza B, which usually appears later in the season, she said. The flu shot does cover Influenza B, she noted.

The flu shot is the first line of defense, Maves said, noting that people who have had the shot but still get the flu are usually down for three to five days, while those who didn’t get the shot are usually down for seven to 10 days.

There’s plenty of vaccine to go around, she said, unlike some years when there’s been a shortage.

And for those who fear that it’s too late to get a flu shot, Maves said that even if the current wave of the flu ebbs quickly, “it doesn’t mean we won’t get another spike in February or March.”

When the flu strikes, it hits “like a ton of bricks,” she said, often with symptoms like fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches and pains and shortness of breath.

It’s not the same as stomach flu, when people have diarrhea and vomiting, she said.

And while the symptoms are similar to a serious cold, “You can just tell, people are just sicker than with a cold,” Maves said.

People who get the flu should visit their doctor within the first 48 hours so they can be treated with Tamiflu, which isn’t as effective after 48 to 72 hours, she said.

They should also stay home and rest, Maves said, noting that they then avoid spreading the virus as well.

Handwashing is “huge” in preventing the spread of the virus, she said, noting it’s an airborne virus that can be picked up from the air and on surfaces.

Her advice for people hoping to avoid the flu is simple — get a flu shot as soon as possible.

“Most of my patients who get the flu and haven’t had a flu shot, they come back every year after that to get the shot,” she said. “The flu is miserable.”

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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