Schools, hospitals fight to stop the spread with flu numbers ‘up substantially’ from previous seasons
MADISON, Wis. – The number of influenza cases in Madison is up substantially, according to the latest numbers from UW Hospital.
Last week, 188 adults tested positive for the flu at UW, bringing this season’s numbers up to 929 as of Sunday. That’s up hundreds from a total of 198 adult cases this time last year.
The number of pediatric flu cases last week alone at the hospital topped the total number of cases this time last year. UW numbers indicate 125 children tested positive for influenza last week, bringing this season’s total up to 821, compared to 76 this time last year.
The number of hospitalizations for both adults and children this season reflects that steep increase, as well, with 93 adults so far this season as compared to 25 this time last season and 28 children this season, up from four last season.
The flu is responsible for three child deaths in Wisconsin so far this season.
“Being in a school setting where everyone’s close together, germs spread really quickly,” said Danielle Krbecek, the health services coordinator for Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District. “In general this time of year, there’s a lot of illnesses out there.”
Krbecek said the best way to stop the spread is to focus on prevention, which means hand-washing lessons for students, wiping down shared items and classrooms and making sure families know to keep sick children home, especially with the way this flu season is shaping up.
“If we looked at least in Wisconsin data, we’re at about three to four times as many hospitalizations and cases overall this year as compared to last year,” said Joseph McBride, an assistant professor of infectious disease at UW. “We’d have to go back about ten years to see these kind of numbers with H1N1 flu pandemic.”
McBride said UW Health doctors work with patients to find the best individual treatments, potentially including a medication parents can take to lower their risk of getting the flu from a sick child.
He said administrative changes can help cut down on the spread, as well.
“One example of that is how the American Family Children’s Hospital right now, we’ve been limiting sibling contacts within the hospital itself, which is the first time we’ve done that in about ten years, to cut down on transmission of the virus,” McBride said, adding that it’s not too late for the flu shot to help, as well.
According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, McBride said the vaccine is “pretty effective this year, which is good news, especially in a tough flu season.”
Area school districts, including Middleton-Cross Plains, Sun Prairie and Verona told News 3 they haven’t documented more children staying home sick than usual for this time of year, but Krbecek said parents shouldn’t hesitate to keep their kids home if they’re not feeling well.
“Yes, there are some Wisconsin laws that families have to follow as far as chronic absenteeism, however there are exceptions to that, one of them being ill,” Krbecek said. “We always ask that parents contact their doctor’s office to get doctor’s notes to help excuse them from school, and that actually qualifies them as medically excused.”
Krbecek said students can return to school once they’re feeling better and have been fever-free without medication and able to keep food and liquids down for 24 hours.
The Middleton-Cross Plains district is also sending out preventative tips to parents for illnesses like the flu and information about the novel coronavirus from the CDC.
“It’s not a competition, but the danger of us here in Wisconsin is far and away higher with the flu than it would be for the coronavirus,” McBride said.
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