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Gundersen sees surge in flu cases, experts encourage vaccination

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Nurse giving flu shot to a male patient.

The flu has arrived in La Crosse, and experts at Gundersen Health System are urging people to get their flu shots to mitigate the effects of the illness, and ultimately, stay out of the hospital. 

According to Megan Meller, Infection Preventionist, Gundersen has treated a significant number of influenza cases over the past week compared to previous years at this time. Typically, Gundersen might see a single case of the flu in October, but this year, there’s already been 15 to 20 cases. Based on what’s happened around the world, the numbers are alarming but not shocking. 

“A couple weeks ago, experts were predicting that this was potentially going to be a severe flu season, based off activity we were seeing in the southern hemisphere,” Meller said. “So far, those predictions are proving accurate.” 

Typically, a severe flu season follows a couple years where the disease was less widespread, which was the case during the pandemic when most people wore masks in public, limiting the spread of germs. Those mild seasons can usher in a feeling of complacency for some who then choose to forgo a flu shot, Meller said. That, in turn, can lead to a spike in cases, which has already occurred locally. 

So now that the flu is here, and with shots readily available, it’s never been more imperative that people get a vaccine as soon as they can. It won’t necessarily prevent you from getting the flu, but it’ll help stave off the effects faster. 

“The vaccines are great because they protect people from getting really sick so that they can bounce back within a day or two, compared to a week or week and a half if they didn’t get the vaccine,” Meller said, adding that getting a COVID-19 booster at the same time is also recommended. “It’s a really important tool to keeping us healthy overall as we embark on this cold and flu season.” 

Meller said it can be difficult to determine if you have the flu or some other illness, like COVID-19, which shares a number of similar symptoms with the flu. One indicator of the flu is the rapid onset of symptoms, which is unlike the slow progression of a standard cold. 

“With the flu, many people feel really run down; some people might have a fever and some might not, but many will also feel achy,” Meller said.  

She recommends that if symptoms linger for five to seven days and your condition isn’t improving, contact your healthcare provider or go to urgent care to be seen. However, to make it less likely you come down with the flu, Meller said focusing on overall health is important. Do what you can to reduce stress, get a good night’s sleep, exercise and eat a balanced diet.  

“That goes a long way in just making sure that you have more protection,” she said. 

And of course, get vaccinated. Gundersen’s Vaccine Clinic at the Gundersen Onalaska Clinic offers flu shots by appointment Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call (608) 775-6829 to make your appointment. Shots are also available from any Gundersen primary care provider. 

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