Influenza Virus Cases Rising in Wisconsin: It's Not Too Late for a Flu Shot
Friday, February 24, 2017
Earlier this week, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) released an announcement that the influenza virus is hitting Wisconsinites hard lately, spiking to 936 confirmed cases as of February 22, 2017, compared to 176 during the same time period last year. The number of cases is monitored each week, and the announcement was released when it was noted that the number of cases increased rapidly over the course of just one week’s time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and can lead to hospitalization or even death. Every year in the United States, millions of people are sickened, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from the flu. Each year, the flu is a little bit different because there are different types of viruses and they change over time.
From the DHS press release, State Health Officer Karen McKeown stated, “At this point, the number of flu cases in Wisconsin has already exceeded the number of cases at the peak of the flu season last year. The flu can be especially harmful for children and people over 65, as well as those with other health problems.”
Fort HealthCare Pediatrics and primary care clinics have also been noting a significant increase in calls to their offices and requests for appointments to check symptoms, particularly in children. While the flu is a virus, and therefore not treatable with antibiotics, there are comfort measures that can be recommended. And certainly through the course of the illness, symptoms can change and you should be aware of when it is time to see a healthcare provider.
Both the CDC and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provide downloadable fact sheets on their websites with information and what to look for (symptoms) for the common cold, influenza, ear infections, antibiotics use, immunizations, vaccines, other illnesses and conditions, as well as suggested comfort measures and guidelines for when to seek medical attention.
Fort HealthCare also provides two free searchable online health library databases on its website. One for all ages, available at: krames.forthealthcare.com, and one specifically for children and adolescents through the American Academy of Pediatrics Patient Education database at: FortHealthCare.com/AAPInfo.
From the AAP site:
Signs of the flu:
The flu can last a week or more. Your child will usually feel the worst during the first two or three days. Flu symptoms include:
- A sudden onset of fever (usually over 101°F).
- Chills and shakes with the fever.
- Headache, body aches, and extreme tiredness.
- Sore throat and/or dry, hacking cough.
- Nasal congestion; stuffy, runny nose.
- Abdominal pain.
- Decreased energy.
- Mild pinkeye (conjunctivitis).
- Throwing up (vomiting) and loose, runny stools (diarrhea).
- Croup (illness with a barky cough and hoarseness), bronchiolitis (illness with wheezing and runny nose), or pneumonia.
Incubation and contagious periods
- Incubation period: One to four days.
- Contagious period: From the day before signs or symptoms appear until at least seven days after the onset of the flu.
Is it a cold or the flu?
Both the flu and colds are caused by viruses. They can have some of the same symptoms. But there are differences.
- Children get sick quickly, often within one day.
- Children usually feel very sick and achy.
- Most children will need to stay in bed for a few days.
- Flu is more common in the winter.
- Children usually have a lower fever or none at all.
- Coughing is mild.
- Children with colds usually have the energy to play and keep up with their routines.
- Colds can happen any time of year.
Extra rest and lots of fluids can help your child feel better. For a child older than two months, you can give them over-the-counter acetaminophen (like Tylenol), or for children older than six months, you can give them Tylenol or ibuprofen (NOT aspirin) to bring a fever down and make them feel more comfortable. Check with your child’s doctor before giving them any other type of medicine, including cold or cough medicines. And remember, antibiotics DO NOT fight the flu.
You should contact your healthcare provider if:
- Your infant is two months old or younger and has a fever.
- Within 24 hours if your child is between two months and two years of age and shows signs of the flu, or if your child is of any age and has another diagnosed health condition such as asthma or diabetes.
- Please note that antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu® only work if they are given during the first day or two of an illness. And it should be noted that Tamiflu® is NOT a substitute for an annual flu vaccination, and is only indicated for children less than two years of age with the flu, or for children greater than or equal to two years of age who have been diagnosed with an underlying health condition such as asthma or diabetes, or another serious medical condition.
- If symptoms change or persist beyond the normal timeframe for the flu, as the illness may have developed into an ear infection, sinus infection, or pneumonia.
For more information about comfort measures for different conditions, visit the CDC symptom relief webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/for-patients/symptom-relief.html or contact your healthcare provider for guidance.
How to prevent the flu
The flu spreads very easily, and it usually spreads during the first several days of the illness. Here are some recommended ways to reduce the spread of the flu:
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Use tissues for runny noses and throw them in the trash right away.
- Use your own drinking cups, utensils, toothbrushes, washcloths, towels, and straws.
- Try to avoid being exposed to other people who are sick, and if you are sick, stay home.
- Eat nutritious meals and get plenty of rest.
- Frequently clean commonly touched surfaces, like doorknobs, telephones, refrigerator handles, faucets, toilet handles, countertops, and even toys. Use a disinfectant soap and hot water.
- Wash both hands frequently, using soap and water, lathering for at least 20 seconds.
- See a healthcare provider if your symptoms persist or get worse.
The CDC recommends that the best way and most important step to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year for everyone six months of age and older. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
In a previous Fort HealthCare blog post, hosted on Fort HealthCare’s website, Fort HealthCare Pharmacy Director, Carl Selvick, addressed three common misconceptions about the flu vaccine:
- Misconception #1: The influenza vaccine can cause autism in our children. “The now debunked study that once created a correlation between the flu vaccine and autism has never been replicated or validated through any scientific means. This study was, single-handedly, the worst case of medical misinformation that our generation has witnessed. With 42 percent of reported influenza-related deaths occurring in children five year old and younger, I implore you to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination for your children with your pediatrician or family doctor.”
- Misconception #2: The influenza vaccine can protect against the stomach flu. “Though these illnesses can seem linked, influenza and the stomach flu are two separate infections. Influenza is characterized by a cough, fever, body aches, and chills. The influenza virus is also most dangerous for people with breathing conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”
- Misconception #3: The influenza vaccine can cause the flu. “The flu vaccine is created from an inactivated (killed) form of the virus that does not allow the virus to replicate in the body. With that being said, the intranasal vaccine does carry a weakened (live) form of the virus. While rare, the intranasal vaccine has been known to cause limited, influenza-like symptoms in certain patients. Because of this, the intranasal vaccine is not recommended for everyone.”
Selvick concludes, “While I am not going to recommend the flu vaccine as the be-all and end-all of influenza prevention for those that may be opposed to it, I do think it is a great tool for prevention. Here at Fort HealthCare, we strive to vaccinate all of our employees to protect our patients. So again, I implore you to get vaccinated to protect those that you care about as well.”
Fort HealthCare begins administering seasonal flu shots to their patients by appointment in early fall each year. But even if you have not had a flu shot yet, the vaccine is still available, and experts encourage individuals to get their flu shot to help avoid potentially dangerous outcomes.
Fort HealthCare patients may request a flu shot by calling their primary care clinic for an appointment, or requesting one through secure messaging using the appointment request feature of the MyCompass patient portal and online medical record. For more information, visit FortHealthCare.com/MyCompass.
Antibiotics are not for all illnesses
When you or your child is not feeling well, the impulse to get a prescription for an antibiotic – quickly! – seems like the best course of action, offering the most immediate relief for illnesses. Many of us have grown up believing antibiotics are a “cure-all,” having experienced success when using them in the past. But, depending upon what ails you, an antibiotic may not be the proper course of treatment. Or it may even do more harm than good. The CDC provides these guidelines through their “Get Smart” campaign. To learn more, visit: CDC.gov/getsmart.
Fort HealthCare is committed to improving the health and well-being of our communities, with a vision to be the healthiest community in Wisconsin. As the leading healthcare provider in the region, it is our goal to reach as many members of the community as possible with health and wellness messages, providing tools and resources to help individuals improve their health and quality of life, while collaborating with several partners to positively improve the population’s health overall on a long term basis. For more information, visit FortHealthCare.com.