Flu season hits Wisconsin

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Premiere Date: 
December 6, 2012

Flu season hits Wisconsin

Tom Haupt talks about the measures the state is taking to combat this year's flu season.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg: Now to health news and the uptick in hospitalizations early in the flu season. The flu is coming in hard and fast compared to years past. If you haven't had your flu shot, you'll want to pay close attention to what our next guest has to say. Tom Haupt is the influenza surveillance coordinator for the State Department of Health Services. Thanks very much for being here. Tom Haupt: Thank you for the invitation to be on your show. Frederica Freyberg: What is the latest information on flu outbreaks in Wisconsin? Tom Haupt: Right now we've had at least four influenza outbreaks in nursing homes, two of which have resulted in fatalities, which is an early start to the year. Not totally unprecedented, because we have had other early years. But this is probably the earliest we've had in the last ten years. We've seen an increase in the number of cases, a very high increase in the number of hospitalizations. As of today, we’ve had 48 hospitalizations. What’s unique about that is that this is early. Usually our hospitalizations happen after the first of the year. Out of the 48 hospitalizations, 24 have been amongst elderly people. And what's even more surprising and more concerning is at least six are children who are less than one year of age. And we have four women who actually were pregnant and not vaccinated, who are hospitalized. And that's been one of our focuses over the last couple of days, is to really get the message out, for everyone, including pregnant women, to get vaccinated. Frederica Freyberg: Why is it surprising that those young children are being affected? Tom Haupt: The young children are too young to be vaccinated at this point. And it appears, although we can't prove at this point, our theory is that the family members have not been vaccinated, or have not been vaccinated yet. That would include not only mother and father, but the siblings, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, who come to see a brand-new baby. All those people need to be vaccinated. They can spread it to the children. Frederica Freyberg: What's the explanation, if any, for the early start? Tom Haupt: There really is not an explanation. Influenza seasons varies every year. Some people think that– We do know that it does tend to spread more when the winter comes and the air is dryer, and people tend to congregate more. But the last few years we've our had increases in January with our peaks in March and April. It's been very late years after the past few. Why it's happened early this year, really is a hard thing to explain. Frederica Freyberg: And is it a particularly virulent flu this year, I mean, pretty bad? It sounds like it is with all these hospitalizations. Tom Haupt: Potentially. Right now we have two strains circulating in the Wisconsin, Influenza AH3 which predominately hits older people harder, and it's known to be probably the most powerful of the influenza viruses. But we also have about 30% of Influenza B that tends to hit the younger people a little bit more. So there's two viruses predominantly going on at this point, and the h3 is the one that is more powerful. Frederica Freyberg: And given that you have these two strains and this early onset and it's a really bad bug, how is the vaccination covering for those? Tom Haupt: The vaccination is covering very well for the Influenza As. It’s been almost 100% so far. But we will continue to monitor that with the CDC to make sure we are not going to be seeing a mid-season drift, where the vaccine is maybe not very effective. So far it’s been very good with that. The Influenza B vaccine has been a little bit off. There’s probably about 70% have been right on the nose. But there's also another 30% where it's not in what they call, the lineage of Influenza B. Frederica Freyberg: If in fact there's some kind of drift and it doesn't cover as well, what can people do? Tom Haupt: Well, in addition to vaccination, people need to have good hygiene. They need to wash their hands. They need to cough into their sleeves. All of this seems like common sense, but in all honesty, it's just not being done. If people do the good hygiene, the good cough etiquette, if they do get sick, give themselves time to heal, that's another way to preventing influenza, in addition to the influenza vaccine. Frederica Freyberg: What causes people to be hospitalized with this? Tom Haupt: Actually, people come down with pneumonia or a shortness of breath, and it's mainly amongst the elderly people at this particular point, or people who are, again, at highest risk, which would include children. The cases we've had so far, many of them have resulted in pneumonia. Frederica Freyberg: Is there plenty of flu vaccine available? Tom Haupt: Absolutely. There is a very good supply of influenza vaccine available, both in Wisconsin and nationwide. Frederica Freyberg: Is it too late to get a shot? Tom Haupt: No. It's not too late. Now would be the appropriate time to do it. I would strongly encourage people to get their influenza vaccine as soon as possible, not only for themselves, but people they may have contact with. That again, would be elderly people, young children, people with immune problems. Frederica Freyberg: Because it takes about two weeks to cover? Tom Haupt: That's correct. It takes about two weeks to get full protection from the vaccine. Frederica Freyberg: All right. Just in time for Christmas. Tom Haupt, thanks very much. Tom Haupt: You're welcome. Thanks for inviting me.

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