Flu epidemic ramping up, more cases reported at Ho-Chunk clinics

By Ken Luchterhand

The influenza epidemic has been sweeping across the country and has hit Wisconsin, with new cases being confirmed daily.
“There have been 53 pediatric deaths nationwide so far this flu season, 17 in the last week alone,” said Jennifer Baird, MSN, RN, Infection Prevention and Employee Health nurse with the Ho-Chunk Nation. “Wisconsin is averaging almost 100 hospital admissions per day for influenza right now.”
There have been a lot more confirmed cases at Ho-Chunk clinics, mostly of influenza A, and a lot more unconfirmed cases as well – people just calling in and describing their symptoms and us advising them, said Dr. Amy DeLong, MD, physician at the House of Wellness in Baraboo.
“Stay home and call in. Don’t come in,” DeLong said.
“That’s the whole purpose of triage. If people don’t feel good – call us. Tell us what’s going on. We can counsel you over the phone about what you can do to take care of yourself,” she said. “Then, we can look them up, look at their medications, look at their medical history, and any other comorbid conditions that would put them at higher risk.”
If someone calls in and they’re over 60 or 65 and they have COPD and they currently smoke and have diabetes, and they’re in their day one or two of symptoms, that’s when the staff will advise to get the Tamiflu. It does help people who are at the extremes and certainly doesn’t hurt, DeLong said.
“Someone who is otherwise healthy, I’d say let it run its course. But someone who is higher risk, very young or very old, it can’t hurt,” she said.
For sure, the number of flu cases is ramping up in Wisconsin, all the more reason to be vigilant about being sanitary and limiting exposure to the virus.
People who are sick should stay home and, if you need to be around someone who is ill, wear a afce mask and wash hands and surfaces with disinfectant. Hand sanitizer works well, along with soap and water.
The incubation period, from exposure to illness onset is from one to four days, with two days as the average, Baird said.
“Transmission of the virus is mostly based on close contact with respiratory secretions, such as when someone coughs or sneezes close to you, generally less than 6 feet away,” Baird said.
“There is a smaller chance that it can be transmitted when someone coughs on their hand or touches a doorknob and then a healthy person touches the doorknob that they could become ill but not the usual way it is passed around,” she said. 
Routine cleaning and disinfection are usually adequate for living spaces and objects.  Good hand hygiene and proper cough etiquette are the two most important things to keep people well this season, Baird said.
“The first three to five days of symptoms and the first day before symptoms appear are actually when influenza is the most contagious, Baird said. “We recommend people rest, hydrate and stay home until they have been fever free for at least 24 hours without taking any fever reducing medicine, such as Tylenol or Motrin.”
The current flu vaccine is still available and it can help to reduce the severity of any acquisition of the disease. 
“No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but if you do get the flu after getting the vaccination, it will be a lot milder. The current vaccination is 30 percent effective in preventing the flu and is recommended, especially to people on the two ends of the age groups, the young and the elderly,” DeLong said.
People with chronic health issues are at higher risk of being hospitalized and death versus those who are younger and have no other health issues, she said.  It is killing people and it does kill people every year.
“That’s why we tell people to try to prevent the flu, such as get flu shot, wash hands, and cover your cough. The flu alone can kill you. Absolutely,” DeLong said.
“Please make sure you are practicing good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette and stay home if you have a fever and cough.  If you do start to feel ill, make sure you are getting plenty of rest and stay hydrated,” Baird said.