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Respiratory illnesses cause spike in hospitalizations in Wisconsin this season

RSV, COVID, and the flu are causing spiking levels of hospitalization. Dr. Mary Beth Graham provides answers and preventive measures.
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COVID-19, RSV, and the flu have caused a spike in hospitalizations. Dr. Mary Beth Graham provides answers and ways to avoid getting sick.

This winter, there has been significant rise of various respiratory diseases for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 continues to be an issue in the community, there has also been a rise in hospitalizations among people with influenza and RSV. The spiking numbers suggest that something is different about this winter and corresponding flu season compared to the last couple years.

Dr. Mary Beth Graham, an infectious disease physician at Froedtert Hospitaland the Medical College of Wisconsin, discusses the waves of contagions and spiking levels of hospitalizations of this season compared to recent years.

Flu season begins around October and lasts through March. While there are many different versions of viruses, the primary focuses during flu season are ones that would impact the respiratory system, referred to as influenza-like illnesses (ILI)s. The IFIs most likely to cause hospitalization is the flu, COVID-19, and RSV.

In previous years, the number of flu cases had declined due to COVID-19 restrictive measures like social distancing, wearing masks, and cleansing hands. This flu season saw the number of people contracting ILIs and hospitalizations rise, and despite infection rates dropping since mid-December of last year, the number of people being hospitalized with COVID-19 remains steady.

Dr. Graham says people should continue to take preventive measures that have helped keep down infections over the past few years.

"I am a huge proponent of those individuals who are at greatest risk of complications from any type of respiratory viral illness to consider masking when out in crowds—where you're with other people that you don't know and you cannot social distance," says Graham. "If you have symptoms, if you're sick, you should stay home."

Graham also emphasizes the value of getting vaccinated, saying, "I think one of the things that's important and is still prevalent in the community that people should strongly consider is getting their influenza vaccination."

According to updated data on Jan. 5, 35% of Wisconsinites eligible to receive the flu vaccine have taken it. Graham argues that the COVID pandemic notwithstanding, typical flu seasons tend to experience lower numbers of infections if more people are vaccinated.

"If you haven't gotten your flu vaccine, please consider getting your influenza vaccine," says Graham.


Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Robert is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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