The flu bug has been particularly brutal this winter, with area schools and hospitals seeing a huge increase in the illness compared to last year.
Nine Oak Creek residents have been hospitalized since the beginning of December with confirmed cases of influenza, city Health Officer Judi Price said.
Eight hospitalizations were people over the age of 68, and one was a 4-year-old.
By contrast, only four Oak Creek residents were hospitalized with influenza during the entire flu season last year, Price said.
"There definitely has been an early onset of influenza and an increase in flu cases this season in Oak Creek," she said.
Officials say it's the worst flu season in five years. Flu cases in the Milwaukee area in general have increased to an "intense" level, significantly exceeding moderate levels in 2011-12, according to Google Flu Trends.
More than 1,200 people in Wisconsin have been hospitalized with flu symptoms, creating crowding problems at Milwaukee-area hospitals, according to WTMJ-TV.
The increase of flu cases isn't isolated to Milwaukee County. ProHealth Care in Waukesha County saw between 20 and 22 hospitalizations during the entire flu season in 2011-12. This year, more than 100 people have been hospitalized at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, according to Andre Pells, a nurse in ProHealth Care’s infection control department.
About 90 percent of patients are over age 65, Pells said.
"It is typically our older population who are requiring hospitalization," Pells said.
A few "sporadic" cases of influenza among a younger population have also required hospitalization, Pells said.
"On any given day, we are seeing children, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s — all the way up," Pells said. "Their illnesses are not requiring hospitalization."
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Peggy Eckart, manager for the infection control department, said 98 percent of state flu tests show the influenza strain is the same throughout the area. The flu strain "is typically harder on the older population," Eckart said.
It's difficult for ProHealth Care officials to gauge how many patients have the flu. Once it is diagnosed in a family, other cases in the household are treated without testing. However, urgent care clinics saw twice as many patients than normal during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with the majority of the patients having flu symptoms.
Once a person is sick with the flu, Eckart said they should contact their physicians because medication can help lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu.
"It is important to get it early on in the illness," Eckart said. “Ideal is within the first 48 hours."
It's also not too late to receive flu shots. The state and municipal health departments are still encouraging the influenza vaccination, as it is not believed the flu season has yet hit its worst point. It's expected to peak in a few weeks, but there could even be more in store after that, Eckart said.
"Since we had such an early onset this year and an early peak, could we see a second peak in the February, March time frame? I think that is an unknown," Eckart said.
The influenza is contracted through drops of moisture spread through the air when a person cough, sneezes or talks, according to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. Symptoms can take between one and three days to appear. Infected people can be contagious for one day before the illness and up to five days after the illness.
According to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Aching in the muscles and joints
Where to Get a Flu Shot
While the best time to receive the influenza vaccination is in October and November, there are still flu shots available. If you're considering getting a flu shot, here are some places in the Oak Creek area that offer the vaccine:
- Pick 'n Save
- Target pharmacy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following information: