GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — It's flu season and health professionals are urging the public to help reduce the spread during New Year's gatherings. As you get ready to grab the champagne and head out for the night, there's something else doctors say you may want to grab - a mask, especially if you'll be in large crowds.
"A well-fitted mask will definitely help protect oneself and of course if you have symptoms I would avoid being around other people," said Ajay Sethi, a professor of population health sciences at UW Madison.
In the most available recent data from the Wisconsin DHS from the week ending on December 17th, flu cases appeared to be leveling off statewide. However, some doctors fear gatherings for Christmas and New Year's will create another wave. Since the start of flu season on October 1st, over 32,000 people have tested positive for influenza.
Here in Northeast Wisconsin the danger of that spike hit close to home when just days ago Ava Schmidt, a 14-year-old Bay Port High School student, died of flu and strep complications. A GoFundMe page that was set up to help Ava's family pay for expenses has now raised more than $116,000.
“Flu can absolutely be deadly," said Dr. Cynthia Fisher, a family medicine physician with Thedacare.
Dr. Fisher says there are some groups that are more susceptible to the flu than others.
“For the flu the most vulnerable populations are people that are 65 or older, people at any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, pregnant women and children younger than 5, especially children younger than the age of 2," Fisher said.
If you’re not in a high risk group and are having mild symptoms like cough or runny nose, she says you should be okay to stay home. If you're having moderate symptoms like weakness, leg swelling, or light headedness, you might want to consider visiting a walk-in clinic. However, if your symptoms are more severe it’s important to know when to seek emergency medical attention.
“If you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, frequent dizzy spells, you can’t sit up, especially confusion or you have a period where you get better and suddenly get worse with a new fever, those are times to see our emergency department," Fisher said.
Above all, doctors emphasize the most effective way to protect yourself and prevent the spread is to get your flu vaccine.
“About 34% of wisconsinites have been vaccinated against influenza, which is not enough, it’s lower than usual," Sethi said. "This year it turns out the vaccine is an excellent match with the virus that is circulating so it’s really worth getting that vaccine.”
You can see the latest data on flu-related illness in Wisconsin at dhs.wisconsin.gov.