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Number of flu cases remains low, officials say

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GINA R. HEINE
January 20, 2012
— The good news is the seasonal flu hasn't arrived.

The bad news is the "stomach flu" is making the rounds.


Local health officials answered the following questions about this year's flu:


Q: What's the difference between the flu and "stomach flu?"


A: The symptoms of common, seasonal flu include fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, congestion, sore throat and body aches.


Gastroenteritis, which is typically called the "stomach flu," includes diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. Other symptoms can include fever, fatigue, headaches and muscle pains.


The flu shot does not protect against gastroenteritis.


Officials at Dean and Mercy are reporting cases of the stomach flu. At Dean's urgent care center, medical staff see probably two to three cases a day, said Paul Beckfield, an urgent care physician at Dean Clinic-Janesville East.


"It's not too severe," he said. "Just enough that maybe somebody has to miss school or work a few days."


Antibiotics are not effective against the virus, so the bug just has to run its course, Beckfield said. Also, those affected should get rest and drink plenty of fluids, he said.


Q: How much flu has been in the area?


A: "We're not seeing flu here," Rock County Health Officer Karen Cain said.


While there's no requirement that flu cases be reported to public health officials, Cain said they often hear about it informally. This year, they haven't.


Mercy Health System officials report no positive cases of influenza at their Janesville locations. The flu shot protects against three major flu strains, and health officials test against those strains for possible cases.


Beckfield said Dean hasn't seen any flu, either.


"I don't think we've seen any detectable cases or any detectable amounts in the Rock County area," Beckfield said.


The level of influenza across Wisconsin and most of the country remains at a low level, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Q: Why is flu activity low?


A: Ten to 15 years ago, you could count on one and maybe two "pretty bad" flu epidemics, Beckfield said. With such a big push in recent years for people to get vaccinated, "you don't see that," he said.


Cain agreed that it might be because more people get flu shots and because the strains in the vaccines target the flu circulating at the time.


"Or maybe it's not here, yet. It's hard to say," she said.


Some years have produced more flu than other years, she said.


The mild winter so far might be a factor, she theorized. Officials tend to see the flu increase when people are confined indoors for long periods of time. Given the warmer weather, people have been out and about more, she said.


"But we never really know why," she said.


Q: Is it still coming?


A: Possibly. The flu typically peaks between January and March, so Cain said it's not too late to get a flu shot.



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