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Flu season on track to be one of the deadliest

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 2,900 people have died from the flu. Eleven of those deaths were in Wisconsin according to the Department of Health Services (DHS).

Tom Haupt, the influenza surveillance coordinator, said the recent spike came on fast and hard.

"We figured it was going to be coming but we didn't figure it was going to be coming quite this soon and quite this significantly," he said.

Some of the hardest hit areas are in southwestern and south central Wisconsin and Haupt said this particular strain of flu is particularly dangerous for vulnerable populations.

"Primarily it's been hitting the younger population especially young children," he said.

As of December 28, Wisconsin had seen more than 3,000 confirmed cases, more than 450 of them required hospitalizations.

"Last year at this time we probably had a third of what we have now as far as hospitalizations," Haupt said.

With 3,400 hospitalizations, 2018-2019 was a milder season for flu in Wisconsin, but this year is on track to meet or surpass the numbers from the 2017-2018 season. During that flu season, there were more than 7,500 hospitalizations and 379 deaths.

The 2019-2020 season is following a similar curve.

"We'd expect that we're going to have more hospitalizations and that's going to increase before it goes down," Haupt said.

DHS said the hardest-hit areas are in the population centers like Madison and Milwaukee but hospitals around the state are reporting a similar spike.

According to Maria Leary, the infection prevention and control nurse at Upland Hills Hospital in Dodgeville, the hospital recently confirmed its first handful of cases but they're expecting more.

"It just started to kind of uptick over the last couple of weeks," she said. "Especially this last weekend."

As a precaution for those who are experiencing severe respiratory symptoms such as fevers, persistent cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue and sore throat, Leary recommended getting a doctor's opinion as soon as possible.

"The antivirals, they're going to be useful for you but you need to be started early," she said.

Still, Haupt said the best treatment is avoiding the flu altogether and for that, he recommends getting the vaccine.

"It's still by far the best way to protect yourself and protect others," he said.

As of December 28, DHS reports 37 percent of Wisconsinites have gotten their flu shot. Haupt said that's more people than had it at the same time last year, when they had a record of 40 percent of the population getting the shot.

"It doesn't sound very high and it's not very high but it was a record year for us and we're hoping to exceed that this year," he said.

This year, the DHS goal is to see 70 percent of the state vaccinated.

Amber Noggle

Anchor, 27 News at 5, 6 and 10

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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