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State health agency urges residents to fight spread of influenza

February 11, 2015

Wisconsin is experiencing an especially bad influenza season, and the state Department of Health Services (DHS) is urging people who may have the flu, or other illnesses, to stay home from work or school to avoid spreading sickness.

“People may think they’re being tough and responsible by showing up at work or school when they aren’t feeling well, but the fact is they’re doing their coworkers or classmates a disservice by potentially spreading an illness to others,” said Karen McKeown, state health officer.

People over the age of 65 have been especially hard-hit this influenza season, and DHS also urges state residents to avoid visiting elderly family, friends, or anyone in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home, if they are under the weather.

“We also want to stress that it’s never too late to get a flu shot, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t done so to get vaccinated as soon as they can,” McKeown said. “Even though this year’s flu shot is not as good a match as it has been in most other years, it still can reduce the severity of flu symptoms among those who get the flu, and reduce rates of hospitalization and death.”

Influenza is a contagious disease that infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). Symptoms can come on suddenly with fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. The illness can be mild to severe, and can sometimes lead to death. Nearly 3,000 people have been hospitalized with laboratory confirmed influenza in Wisconsin this season. Of those who have been hospitalized, 72 percent are over the age of 65.

In addition to influenza, Wisconsin has also seen an increase in cases of pertussis (whooping cough), and in outbreaks caused by norovirus. Symptoms of norovirus infection typically include nausea, stomach cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea. Norovirus infection is often mistakenly referred to as “stomach flu,” but is unrelated to influenza.

Along with staying home when sick, DHS urges residents to avoid illnesses through frequent and thorough hand washing, covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, eating nutritious food, exercising, and getting enough rest.