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Flu season launches rite to bare arms — and wash hands
 mtighe  / 

Those who don’t wash their hands regularly and diligently had better change their ways, because hands are like light-rails for germs — and Wisconsin has recorded 10 hospitalizations for influenza already this season.

The first case in southwest Wisconsin, one of the 10 hospitalizations, is in Grant County, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Weekly Respiratory Disease Surveillance Report. Twenty-two cases have been confirmed.


“It’s a little early” to have that many hospitalizations, said Megan Meller, an infection prevention specialist at Gundersen Health System. “Every flu season has its own little quirks.”

There are no major outbreaks in the Badger State, and there hasn’t been much activity nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Typically, the flu targets the elderly, the very young and people whose immunity is compromised, said Meller, who cited getting vaccinated and good hygiene are the best ways to avoid contracting the virus. A stronger vaccine formula is available for people older than 65.

Time is of the essence, because it takes roughly two weeks to develop a strong immunity after receiving a shot, she said.

Along those lines, Gundersen hospitals and clinics, as well as facilities of Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare, are beginning flu vaccine clinics Oct. 16, with sites and times varying by location. The La Crosse County Health Department has one scheduled for 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday in the assembly room at West Salem Elementary School, with others scheduled at varying sites and times.

Private clinics and drugstores also offer immunizations.

Like last year, FluMist, the nasal form of the vaccine, will not be used because the CDC advised against it after a poor performance the previous year, compared with shots. It had been effective in earlier years but is not expected to make the grade for several years, according to health officials.

Vaccine formulas this year are projected to be effective, although the shots last season also were predicted to hold up well but fell off toward the end. The vaccines during the 2015-16 season had a lousy track record.

“It’s a shot in the dark,” Meller said.

Even if someone who has been vaccinated contracts the flu later, it should be less severe, with a smaller chance of hospitalization, she said.

It’s too early to tell how extensive flu cases might be this year, said Jo Foellmi, a public health nurse with the La Crosse County Health Department.

Based on the experiences during the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere, the vaccine is expected to be effective, Foellmi said.

Meller and Foellmi stressed the importance of basic hygiene rules such as covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing to avoid spreading the virus.

They recommend sneezing into the crook of the elbow for maximum control.

“It’s not very pretty, but it keeps it away from your hands,” Meller said.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune  

“Crazy” George Schiltz offers a high five to Paisley Welch, 2, and her mother, Rachel, from Luana, Iowa, as he and members of the Oktoberfest Royal family visit the pediatric oncology department Thursday at Gundersen Health System.

Riverfront rebranding with new name: Aptiv
 NHansen  / 

A lot has changed since Riverfront was first formed 40 years ago, and to celebrate that growth, the organization is getting a new identity.

Riverfront CEO Mary Kessens announced the new Aptiv brand for the company during an event at the La Crosse offices on Thursday. The new brand will become official in December as the organization gets the word out about the name change.

Marc Wehrs / Picasa 


The Aptiv brand is a blend of the words aptitude, active, live and adaptable. Kessens said this symbolizes the organization’s work to help its clients become more independent, learn new skills and improve their lives.

“The name change reflects how the organization has changed,” she said. “We’ve become more collaborative. We work with people with disabilities to be more independent and active in their communities.”

Riverfront was formed in 1976 as a day service for adults with disabilities. Originally located along the Mississippi River, the company has changed locations and expanded into surrounding communities across western Wisconsin.

The ages of people served has also been expanded: Riverfront serves children as young as 3. Last year, Riverfront provided more than 6,300 educational experiences, helped more than 150 individuals with job placement and averaged of 425 hours of support to people with disabilities through job coaching and internships.

Kessens said the old name has come into conflict with other businesses in the communities her organization serves. It no longer has its riverfront location, and two years ago work began on a new name that would better describe what the nonprofit does.

The organization is changing its menu of services. The new brand has been tested in some of Riverfront’s communities, Kessens said, and the response has been positive. Between now and December, the goal is to help get the new name out so people aren’t surprised when it officially takes effect.

“Changing the signs and the logos are only a small part of the new brand,” she said. “The challenge was to find a name that adequately reflected the organization and its work.”

La Crosse businesses, college campuses go for personal touch at high school career expo
 NHansen  / 

When it comes to career planning, it is best to get them when they’re young.

More than 2,000 Western Wisconsin high school juniors attended the annual Career Expo at the La Crosse Center on Thursday. During the event, students were able to visit more than 30 booths with presentations and information about potential careers, as well as participate in the Wisconsin Education Fair, which showcased representatives from more than 100 colleges and universities.

The focus on helping students plan for college and career has sharpened in recent years. Education experts have recommended K-12 schools do more to expose students to career planning earlier in high school or even middle school. New requirements went into effect this year in Wisconsin requiring schools to provide academic and career planning services to students in grades six through 12.

“This is more important now than even 10 years ago,” Western Technical College K-12 relations specialist Tyler Ludeking said. “The expo fits right into that requirement.”

At the expo, students attended a brief orientation before choosing between the career breakout sessions and the college fair. There were 17 career fields at the expo including, agri-business, arts and graphics, business, computer science, education, engineering, manufacturing, transportation and others.

Jessica Subach, a human resources manager for local McDonald’s franchisee Courtesy Corp., said the expo is a great way to let high school students know about what her company offers. A lot of high school students’ first jobs are in the fast-food sector, but the company also has openings for professionals looking to put a specialized or four-year degree to good use.

“I think sometimes people are unaware of the opportunities in Courtesy Corporation,” she said. “The expo lets me show the students the benefit of being here and teach them about the company.”

Getting students to think about their career options is especially important for in-demand fields, Western instructor Jason Lewis said. He has been teaching in the diesel and heavy equipment technician program at the college for more than a decade, and the industry is facing a severe shortage of skilled workers right now.

Due to retirements, there are more than 300 openings in the state for technicians, but only the capacity to graduate 100 or so skilled candidates each year. The expo gives Lewis and his colleagues in the program the opportunity to highlight the program and meet students interested in working in the skilled trades.

“We can show the career possibilities of a degree as well as the growth potential and earnings,” he said. “You can make $50,000 to $60,000 with a two-year degree.”

Jordyn Poad, a student success coach at Southwest Technical College, attended as part of the college fair. She said having a booth at the center helps connect her campus with interested students in the La Crosse region, as well as providing an opportunity to make personal connections and answer students’ questions.

“It is so important that we are here to do that,” she said. “A banner and a flyer in a guidance office can’t answer questions. We can have a more in-depth conversation with a prospective student.”

Marc Wehrs / Picasa 


Ben Bromley: Science experiments a little off-center
 DCN Editor

I always knew I should’ve paid closer attention in my science classes. If I’d applied myself, I could’ve spent my career determining whether cats can be both a solid and a liquid.

Science experiments seemed boring back in school, what with all the equations and data and careful control of chemicals that might blow up the lab. But after learning about this year’s winners of the Ig Nobel Prizes, I have to say science can be a blast.

For 27 years, the delightfully warped brainiacs behind the Annals of Improbable Research have handed out awards that spoof the Nobel Prizes. They honor achievements that make people laugh, then think. Could playing a didgeridoo help you overcome sleep apnea? Let’s round up some horns and some test subjects and find out!

As the prize committee proudly states, worthwhile experiments can also be odd and even funny. “A lot of good science gets attacked because of its absurdity,” the group’s website reads. “A lot of bad science gets revered despite its absurdity.”

Take, for example, this year’s winners of the Ig Nobel Prize for economics, who studied how holding crocodiles affects gamblers. Can you imagine if we’d done exciting experiments like this in high school? It certainly would’ve beat cutting worms open.

Australian researchers had problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers handle 3-foot crocodiles before playing a simulated slot machine. The study found problem gamblers were likely to place higher bets after handling the reptiles, as their brains had misinterpreted the excitement of holding a dangerous animal as a sign they were on a lucky streak. If you see any gamblers walking the casino floor holding crocodiles, chances are they have a problem. Actually, they probably have several.

Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, said the awards highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways. “We hope that this will get people back into the habits they probably had when they were kids of paying attention to odd things and holding out for a moment and deciding whether they are good or bad only after they have a chance to think,” Abrahams told Reuters.

That might explain the mind of French researcher Marc-Antoine Fardin, whose study “Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?” was inspired by Internet photos of cats tucked into glasses, buckets and sinks. He won the Ig Nobel in physics by using mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats and kittens hold their physical shape longer than older, lazier felines. Science is a wonderful world. Prove an obvious conclusion — that exercise helps animals avoid obesity — and they hand you a prize.

A more surprising conclusion was reached by the authors of the paper “Didgeridoo Playing as Alternative Treatment for Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome: Randomized Controlled Trial.” A multi-national team of six researchers won a prize for determining the Australian wind instrument helps apnea sufferers not because its droning tone puts them to sleep, but because daily practice involves a lot of blowing, strengthening players’ upper respiratory tracts. This is the kind of stuff you can’t know until you try and didgeridoo it.

“They are unusual approaches to things,” Abrahams said. “It would be difficult for some people to decide whether they are important or the opposite. If you had sleep apnea for a long time, the didgeridoo thing would sound quite intriguing.”

I’m intrigued, and I have neither a didgeridoo nor sleep apnea. This is the beauty of the research that yields Ig Nobel Prizes: It recognizes people whose approach is a little off center. Sort of like my attempt to bisect that worm back in ninth grade.