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Flu season on the move in Minnesota, Wisconsin

Flu season is on the way

“The writing’s on the wall, in the next week or two, we’re going to see a big uptick (in cases),” said Dr. Kevin Stephan, infectious disease physician with Essentia Health.

State statistics show the illness is on the move. Influenza hospitalizations in Minnesota have crept up each week through Dec. 28, with 71 influenza-related hospitalizations last week. In Wisconsin, 198 people tested positive for influenza the week of Dec. 21. Activity levels are rising in both states.

The best way to prevent the illness is to get the flu shot, but it takes about two weeks for antibodies to form.

“Get it now because the peak is coming soon,” said Dr. Andrew Thompson, infectious disease physician with St. Luke’s.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. The flu tends to be most dangerous to the elderly, very young and those with chronic conditions or immune deficiencies. Most of the flu cases seen in Minnesota this season are caused by a strain of the H1N1 virus, which was responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic.

The best way to avoid the disease is to get a flu shot.

“I’m a strong advocate for getting the influenza vaccine,” Stephan said. “Not only are you protecting yourself, you’re protecting the people around you.”

That includes everyone from your older relative to your neighbor’s baby, Thompson said.

Both doctors debunked the myth that the flu shot is part of the problem.

“It’s impossible to get the flu from the shot,” Stephan said. “It stimulates your immune system to fight it.”

The vaccine is offered in a number of different types, including shots with tiny needles and nasal spray.

While this year’s vaccine is well-targeted for flu viruses circulating, Thompson said, it is only about 60 percent effective. So people should continue to follow basic hygiene principles. Cover your cough, wash your hands frequently, avoid being around people who are ill, use your own drinking cups and straws, eat nutritious meals, get plenty of rest, clean commonly-used surfaces and if you’re sick, take precautions not to pass it on.

Symptoms of influenza include high fever over 100 degrees, coughing and breathing difficulty that comes on suddenly. Headache, sore throat and body aches or tiredness can also be symptoms, according to Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“You’re going to feel terrible for a few days,” Stephan said. Many people opt to tough it out at home flat on their back, he said, which is why the number of people with symptoms going to clinics and hospitals are just the tip of the influenza iceberg. Those who get ill should expect to be out of commission for about a week, he said.

Thompson encouraged people who are experiencing a fever, muscle ache and cough that is not getting better to contact their doctor’s office right away, especially if they are in one of the high-risk groups. Some may benefit from anti-viral medication.

“No one’s invincible,” he said. Although the flu is a common virus, Thompson said, it can be life-threatening.

The Centers for Disease Control’s website offers information on influenza,

Another way to follow the spread of the disease is through The site tracks the number of people in each state and country who have been searching for health information on the flu.