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DOUGLAS COUNTY, WI - Twenty-six hospitalizations and four flu–related deaths in Wisconsin
have prompted health officials to conclude that this year’s flu season could be
more severe than in previous years.
"Usually in the Northland, the peak for seasonal flu
activity is January or February so this coming in early December is a little
early," said Dr. Timothy Burke, infectious disease specialist at Essentia
Dr. Burke, is also Essentia Health’s East Region Epidemiologist.
He says when a virus is similar to one that's spread in the past; people tend
to be better protected. But, if a virus is new to a population the chances for
the disease to spread greatly increase.
"If the virus is different in substantial ways than
there isn't as much immunity or protection in the population," said Burke.
In Douglas County, the virus hasn't seemed to take hold yet.
The county hasn't reported any cases of influenza, but says the state has
notified them to encourage people to get vaccinated.
"The message from the state is really that the flu
vaccine is the most important way to prevent disease," said Rachel
Johnson, public health nurse at Douglas County Health and Human Services.
Those people with the highest risk of coming down with the
flu are the young, the elderly and pregnant women, but health officials say no
matter your health, there's still a chance you could get infected.
Burke said, "Influenza can be devastating, even for
young, healthy people with robust immune systems."
Besides getting the flu vaccine, doctors recommend covering
your mouth when coughing and a healthy dose of hand washing.
There is also a prescription treatment available, called Tamiflu,
but doctors say that's usually only effective when taken within 48 hours of
contracting flu–like symptoms.