MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The flu has hit Wisconsin hard, already sickening hundreds more people than during all of last season, state health officials said Friday.
As of the end of the day, Wisconsin had seen 4,249 confirmed influenza cases, said state Department of Health Services spokeswoman Claire Smith. That's more than twice the 2,034 cases the state saw during the entire 2011-12 flu season. The agency reported flu activity has been most intense in the state's northern, northeastern and southeastern regions.
The actual number of cases could be much higher; agency officials say most people suffering from the flu don't see a doctor and never undergo tests to confirm the ailment.
Smith said the agency had recorded 1,360 flu-associated hospitalizations as of the end of the day Thursday. That's about 970 more hospitalizations than last season. One child has died, Smith said. She described the child as a northeastern Wisconsin teenager but had no further information.
The total number of deaths is unknown, because the state the state doesn't count adults who die of influenza-associated illnesses. And the worst may be yet to come. The flu season typically peaks in late January or early February, Smith said.
The numbers may look shocking, Smith said, but they might be explained simply by the law of averages. The state has experienced fairly mild flu seasons since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, she said.
DHS officials urged people to get vaccinated, saying Wisconsin still has an ample supply of vaccine.
Milwaukee health officials have counted 333 probable or confirmed influenza cases in the city and 249 hospitalizations. Most of those patients are 65 or older, said Sarah DeRoo, a spokeswoman for the city health department. Influenza-related emergency room visits have tripled over the past weeks, she added.
Milwaukee County hospitals have become so crammed due in part to flu sufferers they've been diverting their ambulances transporting patients with non-life-threatening problems to whichever facility has openings.
Vaccination campaigns that have been going on since October have reduced vaccine inventories, DeRoo said. But she said things haven't reached a critical level yet and the city could reach out to the state for more.
Amanda Kita-Yarbro, epidemiologist for Public Health Madison and Dane County, said she didn't have any numbers on confirmed cases but had counted 91 flu-related hospitalizations since the beginning of October. Ninety occurred in December and January.
The culprit is a stronger version of the flu virus known as H3N2, she said But, like Smith, she noted the state has seen mild flu seasons for the last few years and this season might simply represent a return to normal.
"It just seems much harsher," Kita-Yarbro said, "but it could turn out to be just a typical year."