Health officials say prevention is the best medicine

By Tracy Ouellette

Staff Writer

With recent news reports about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak filling the airwaves, area health officials say the real risk remains much closer to home.

“The flu is definitely more deadly and more prevalent and that’s where the danger is right now,” Central Racine County Health Department Community Health Director Jeffrey Langlieb said.

Langlieb said he didn’t have the exact numbers for Racine County as of Monday afternoon, but hospitalizations have been on the rise the past several weeks in the county because of the flu.

“The flu rate is high across the whole country right now and in southeast Wisconsin, we’re also seeing slightly above baseline levels for influenza-like illness, at a threshold considered a bit higher than expected,” he said. “It’s hard to know the exact numbers because only hospitalizations of more than 24 hours are reported.”

Across the country, according to the Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report for the week ending Jan. 25, hospitalization rates remain similar to what’s been seen at this time during recent seasons, but rates among children and young adults are higher than in recent seasons. Pneumonia and influenza mortality has been low, but 68 influenza-associated deaths in children have been reported so far this season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that so far this season there have been at least 19 million flu illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths from the flu.

Walworth County’s Public Health Officer Erica Bergstrom said the number of confirmed cases of the flu in the county was 18 as of the end of January.

“These are cases from individuals who sought health care treatment and had laboratory confirmed tests for influenza,” she explained. “This number is higher than seen in the 2018-2019 season through this same time frame, but less than during the 2017-2018 season. Influenza B tends to be the primary circulating flu virus, but we’ve seen a slight increase in Influenza A/HI both nationally and in Wisconsin throughout January.”

Bergstrom said there has been one reported pediatric death in southeast Wisconsin.

“Influenza itself is not reportable, only if there is a hospitalization of more than 24 hours,” Langlieb said. “So we don’t get all the cases reported to us and the only deaths that are reported are pediatric deaths.”

Bergstrom said the primary strain of the flu circulating right now is not a novel – or new – strain, which is fortunate.

She said it’s important to note though that flu can change rapidly and there could still be shifts in which strain of flu is circulating.

Flu shot is best defense

Both Langlieb and Bergstrom recommended people get a flu shot if they haven’t already done so.

“It’s the best way to protect yourself,” Langlieb said. “There are still several weeks, if not months, left in the flu season so it’s not too late and it can protect even if you do get the flu.”

Bergstrom agreed, saying while flu activity tends to peak in February, it’s not over.

“Not only does it help protect you and those around you from the flu, but people who get the flu vaccine and still get the flu tend to have a less severe illness than those who weren’t vaccinated,” Bergstrom said.

She said Public Health has a limited supply of this season’s flu vaccine available free of charge to residents of Walworth County. Call 262-741-3200 to schedule an appointment for the vaccine.

The Central Racine County Health Department can be reached at 262-898-4460.

Flu shots are also available at local doctor offices and area pharmacies.

Wash your hands

Langlieb said there are additional ways to protect against the flu and other viruses that people should remember.

“Stay home if you are sick and keep the kids home from school if they are sick,” he said. “And wash your hands! I can’t overstate the importance of good hand washing. Practice good coughing etiquette; cough into the crook of your elbow. All of this can help prevent the spread of the flu.”

Bergstrom echoed Langlieb’s advice.

“The key to preventing the flu is covering your cough or sneeze, washing your hands regularly and staying home when you’re sick. Flu can be very dangerous to the young, old and the immune compromised so it’s important we all do our best to stop the spread.”


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