Flu season in high gear - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Flu season in high gear

MADISON (WKOW) -- Flu cases are reaching record numbers with some cities declaring health emergencies. Here in Wisconsin, numbers are high as well.

Epidemiologists say the flu season will most likely last another five weeks.

At Saint Mary's Hospital lab techs are working long hours testing hundreds of samples from patients who might have the flu.

"If patients have the flu they need to be sequestered," says laboratory scientist Cathy Henke.

Health officials say they should be bed-ridden and monitored until the virus has run its course, which is typically three to five days. As of Thursday, the hospital has seen more than 50 cases in the last few weeks.

"We are busy. We opened a contingency unit to make more beds available to our patients," says Nurse Epidemiologist Ellen Smith.

So far they haven't had to divert any patients to other hospitals.

"We're still doing a good job taking care of the needs of those patients," Smith explains.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is seeing several clinics filled to the brim. Many are sending flu patients anywhere they can find an open bed.

In Green Bay, police officers and first responders have started wearing masks to help prevent the spread -- a spread that hit one central Wisconsin school district especially hard.

"We have had a few parents that have called in and just said because of the numbers of kids that have been sick, we're going to keep our kids home for the day," says Neillsville Superintendent John Gaier.

The Neillsville School District reports well over 200 kids, 20 percent of their students, stayed home on Wednesday.

Closer to home, Sauk County Public Health released an advisory stating the number of cases is also high, but in Madison numbers are staying steady. Most schools only have a few scattered cases.

"Influenza always has been a very serious illness and can be a very serious especially for the very young and very old," Smith says.

Epidemiologists encourage people to practice common sense prevention especially children and the elderly. That means you should make sure you're well hydrated and nourished over the next few weeks and that you are washing your hands as often as possible.

They also suggest trying Tamiflu, a prescription drug that in some cases makes the flu less severe. Epidemiologists say it needs to be taken within 48 hours of contracting the virus.

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