For most people, influenza resolves on its own. But sometimes, influenza and its complications can be deadly.
Officials say influenza is now widespread in Wisconsin, with more than a dozen cases in Marathon County serious enough to require hospitalization.
Since September, 837 people have been hospitalized statewide with the flu, compared to the 163 reported this time last year.
Most, but not all, patients requiring hospitalization were older adults, according to Thomas Haupt, a respiratory epidemiologist with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services who serves as the state’s influenza surveillance coordinator. Young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people age 65 and older are particularly at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Haupt says preliminary data show this year’s flu shot to be a good match with the viruses currently circulating.
Infections have not yet peaked and will likely rise in the coming weeks, says Becky Mroczenski, an epidemiologist and communicable disease coordinator with the Marathon County Health Department.
“Influenza can continue to circulate in the community through March and sometimes into April or May,” Mroczenski says, noting that it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.
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Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
When to see a doctor
Most people who get the flu can treat themselves at home and often don’t need to see a doctor.
If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems.