Wisconsin Health Officials Seeing Record Number Of Flu Cases So Far This Season

Jan 14, 2020

Wisconsin is seeing a pretty severe flu season. State health officials say more than 600 people have been hospitalized since October, and 15 have died, including a child. Flu seasons typically span from October to May.

Tom Haupt keeps track of influenza cases for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. He says hospitalizations increased dramatically over the holidays, and the numbers so far are higher than the state has seen in the previous five seasons. Haupt says one thing is different this year: younger people are being hit harder.

"Usually most of our hospitalizations are over 65 years old. This year, about 60% have been under the age of 65 years old," Haupt says.

Besides the state, there's been an uptick in cases in the county and city of Milwaukee. Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik says so far, just over 200 people have been hospitalized in the county, while 175 have been hospitalized in the city. She says that's at least four to six times the number compared to last year at this time. Kowalik says it's hard to say why the numbers are so much higher.

"Flu can be very unpredictable, so we're not 100% sure. We do know that it's important to get vaccinated against the flu because the flu can start at any point in time in the season," Kowalik says.

Kowalik says symptoms of flu include high fever, fatigue, coughing and disorientation. She says other preventative measures include what she calls "old-school hygiene."

"Hand washing, coughing into your sleeve, sanitizing, making sure that if you have sickness or flu-like symptoms that you are not exposing others. Flu is respiratory and can be easily spread through breathing or being around other individuals that are infected," she says.

Kowalik says the two strains of flu that she's seeing right now are included in the vaccination and says it's not too late in the season to get vaccinated. She says the Milwaukee Health Department provides free flu shots at its three clinics throughout the city.