Milwaukee hospitals struggling to keep pace with flu cases

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Milwaukee hospitals struggling to keep pace with flu cases

Premiere Date: 
January 10, 2013

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker talks about the increase in Wisconsin flu cases.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

A month ago we interviewed a state health official about this season's influenza and he encouraged getting a flu shot. Since that interview this has become one of the worst flu seasons in a decade nationally, worst in the past five years here in Wisconsin, and it hasn't even peaked yet. According to the state Department of Health, more than 1,300 people across Wisconsin have been hospitalized because of the flu, out of more than 2,800 flu cases. The department says it does not track adult flu deaths. It reports one child has died. In Milwaukee, several hospitals are reportedly diverting ambulances to other emergency rooms because they are full up with flu patients. We turn now to Bevan Baker, Milwaukee Commissioner of Health. And thank you very much for being here.

Bevan Baker:

Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

So give us, kind of, a status report on the flu in Milwaukee.

Bevan Baker:

Certainly every state in the nation in now suggesting that flu is widespread, and we here in Wisconsin have been impacted as well. And Milwaukee is starting to see a marked increase in the number of influenza cases, and our hospitals and our medical providers are starting to see the volumes where we are concerned and we are watching very carefully.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is the response on the part of public health agencies?

Bevan Baker:

Well, one of the responses has been to reiterate what we said early in the season. One of the best things one can do is to get the influenza vaccine, and that vaccine is the best protection we have against an emerging epidemic of influenza. So we're reiterating that. But we're also are urging people who are ill to at stay home, stay home from work and school, and to make certain that they only seek providers if their symptoms get worse.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, a couple of things on that. The flu shot, I understand, takes two weeks to give you protection. It's not too late then to have that?

Bevan Baker:

No, it's not too late. And while it does take some time to accrue immunity, many have already taken the vaccine. But what we need too, is to protect the most vulnerable among us. This season, it appears that those greater than 65 are being impacted the most, and certainly small children, those less than a year of age, are always at risk because they can't uptake the vaccine. We want to make sure that anyone who is eligible for the vaccine gets the vaccine.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so in terms of the vaccine, what is your, kind of, surveillance telling you about the effectiveness of that vaccine this year?

Bevan Baker:

We're seeing two types of influenza circulating, a type A and a type A. It's a pretty good match for that type A influenza, so it's working well. That type B, we're seeing about 62-65% efficacy in terms of how it works. It still may lesson the symptoms there, but it's the best that one can do. Vaccines are never 100% accurate, but they are the best defense that one has against influenza.

Frederica Freyberg:

Do you find that because the flu seasons of recent years have not been as bad, that perhaps not as many people went out and got that flu shot? Is that part of what's happening?

Bevan Baker:

Well, that may be part of what's happening. There were 128 million doses of influenza vaccine produced. We have been fortunate here in Wisconsin to have two consecutive mild years of seasonal influenza. This is a severe year and we really need to reiterate, over and over again, that flu can kill and we see nearly 50,000 deaths annually here in the US, so it's time to make certain we take those precautions.

Frederica Freyberg:

You were talking earlier about, if you do get the symptoms of the flu, or get the flu, should stay inside, you know, and not give it to other people. But what about that anti-viral Tamiflu.   Are people recommended to take that or try to seek that drug if they get ill?

Bevan Baker:

Well, that antiviral is an excellent thing to have in our toolbox, and it's stockpiled here in Wisconsin and across our nation. We're beginning to tap into those stores because individuals who can't get access to the vaccine, this may help them. This may help lessen the severity of the spread of this influenza strand. So Tamiflu is important to have. But what's most important is individuals get vaccines, stay away from other individuals who are vulnerable, let those symptoms-- they'll be miserable for about seven to ten days, but let those symptoms take its course unless they get more severe.

Frederica Freyberg:

On that Tamiflu, you have to take it within the first 48 hours. Is that right?

Bevan Baker:

That is true, and while there is always a window of opportunity there, one shouldn't rely solely on the fact that Tamiflu is there. Those stores can be depleted very swiftly. As we see this epidemic spread across the nation, Tamiflu may become in short supply. So one should still look at the vaccine as the first line of defense.

Frederica Freyberg:

I'm sorry to keep going on Tamiflu, but have those stores of it started to be depleted at this point? I mean, if you called your doctor's office, would they suggest that it's reserved for a certain population?  

Bevan Baker:

Well, that's what we like to see, it be given to populations who are most at risk and who are most impacted by the circulating strand, the elderly, those who are very young or have compromised immune systems. We are going to say that Tamiflu, while they're stockpiled, it's not an unlimited stockpile, and some stockpiles might actually be aging out of inventory. So one has to be very careful how they distribute that stockpile of Tamiflu.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right, Bevan Baker from Milwaukee, thank you very much.

Bevan Baker:

Thank you.


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