Influenza poses more of a risk to Wisconsin than coronavirus

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU)-- In the state of Wisconsin, there have been 31 influenza deaths reported this season--two of them children.

Gundersen Health System and Mayo Clinic Health Systems in La Crosse have been busy treating the illness.

Mayo saw a significant increase in flu cases from December to January and Gundersen has treated more than last year.

Health officials say influenza is more dangerous to Wisconsinites than coronavirus.

"We have naturally circulating coronaviruses here in our population and they're going to look like the common cold," said Megan Meller, a Gundersen infection preventionist. "Many viruses cause the common cold and coronaviruses are one of them and that's what we're seeing right now over in China. The majority of people who are getting sick with coronaviruses, their illness is very mild."

The fatality rate for those with coronavirus is just 3%, according to infection preventionists.

"We have influenza in our own backyard," Meller said. "Influenza is worldwide and it's causing significantly more hospitalizations and deaths per year than I think we would ever really see with coronavirus."

Health officials recommend that everyone gets a flu shot as even when it doesn't prevent influenza, it still has its benefits.

"There's a lot of evidence that shows getting the flu shot not only makes the illness less severe, but helps you recover a lot faster and get back to work, especially when vacation time is so limited," Meller said. "Another really cool thing about it is that for those patients with Type 2 diabetes, it reduces their risk of a stroke and heart attacks significantly. There's a lot of studies out there showing that."

Health officials recommend increasing respiratory hygiene as a way to decrease the chance of spreading illness, washing one's hands often is at the top of that list.

"Proper sneezing/coughing etiquette, which means not coughing into your hands, but coughing into the fabric of your sleeve because that's really going to trap and kill those germs a lot faster," Meller said.

Gundersen says it is never too late to get the flu shot.