Flu season could start any day.
Brenda Klahn, infection control expert at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville, said she’s already seen a few cases of influenza, which is rare for this time of year.
That means flu season might start earlier than usual, but nothing is certain, Klahn said.
Last year, flu season in Janesville lasted from February through June, Klahn said, which is an unusually long season.
It is too early to determine how this flu season will compare to last, Klahn said.
Between Sept. 2 and Oct. 21, Wisconsin had 14 cases of flu reported, according to the Respiratory Virus Surveillance Report from the state Department of Health Services. That’s 1.6 percent of total reported respiratory viruses.
Too few cases of the flu have been reported to determine what strain of the illness will be prominent this season, Klahn said.
The flu is a respiratory illness, Klahn said. Symptoms include congestion, fever, body chills, body aches and headaches.
Flu usually sets in quickly, which is different than a common cold, Klahn said. Colds usually set in gradually, then linger. Symptoms of a cold are less severe than that of the flu.
Vomiting, nausea and diarrhea are not symptoms of the flu, Klahn said. The flu is often confused with intestinal bugs, but they are not the same.
The best defense against the flu is the flu vaccine, Klahn said. The vaccine can prevent people from getting the flu or lessen the severity of the illness.
The vaccine cannot give someone the flu because it is an inactivated virus, Klahn said. People often believe they get the flu from its vaccine because they do not know how to properly identify flu symptoms.
Flu vaccines might cause sore muscles around the injection area and fatigue as recipients’ bodies build immunity, Klahn said. Major side effects of the vaccine exist but are rare.
As of this week, St. Mary’s flu clinic has administered 1,769 doses of vaccine, Klahn said. The hospital began giving the vaccine to hospital patients in September.
The hospital hosts a public flu clinic Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Klahn said. Scheduled appointments are available as well.
All Mercyhealth pharmacies provide the vaccine for a $32 cash fee, said Laurie Finke, nurse at Mercyhealth. Clinics also accept walk-in visits for the vaccine and can bill to a patient’s insurance.
Finke recommends patients contact their primary care doctor for the vaccine if possible.
It is best to take action within the first day or two of showing flu symptoms, Klahn said.
Those showing symptoms should contact their doctor to see if they are a candidate for the antiviral medication Tamiflu, Klahn said.
Infected people should stay home, rest, drink fluids and control their fever with Tylenol or ibuprofen, Klahn said. This is especially important around the holiday season.
“During the holidays, it’s such a good time to share germs,” Klahn said. “You have one ill family member or friend at a gathering, and if someone does have influenza, then it tends to spread pretty quickly.”
Young children, people over age 65, pregnant women, people who have breathing problems and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of developing the flu, Klahn said.
A more potent vaccine is available specifically for those over 65, Klahn said. An egg-free vaccine is available for people who have egg allergies.
The flu mist is no longer recommended, Klahn said. The mist was proven to not be as effective as the injection.