At the risk of jinxing things, it could be time to put a fork in the 2013-14 influenza season as a relatively mild one in the Coulee Region.
“There’s still some activity going on, but there’s been a significant downswing since it peaked in January,” said county public health nurse Christine Gillespie.
The season was severe in the young to middle-age adult category statewide and nationally.
“That’s unusual,” Gillespie said, adding, “But we didn’t see that in La Crosse County.”
One of the main gauges of a flu season’s severity is the number of hospitalizations, which tallies 13 so far in La Crosse County as the traditional October-April season winds down, compared with 29 last year, Gillespie said.
Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare confirmed it had far fewer cases this season, but a spokesman said cases were more severe than normal.
Patients still are calling Gundersen Health System about coughing and other respiratory symptoms, but suspected flu cases have declined and this has been an average year, a spokeswoman said.
Gillespie expressed hope that higher vaccination rates are helping stem the tide of the respiratory disease, but she said those statistics are not available yet.
“Every year they’ve been increasing,” she said. “Vaccine rates are helping control it. The higher vaccine rate among children is helping everyone.”
The flu season started early last fall. It turned out to be about average in length but with fewer cases.
Wisconsin experienced 1,652 hospitalizations this year, compared with nearly 3,000 last year, said Tom Haupt, influenza coordinator for the state Department of Health Services.
Numbers followed a similar track in Minnesota, which has logged 1,838 hospitalizations this year compared with 3,068 last year, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
“One thing that was unique was that for ages 18-49 and 50-64, it was much higher than average, and many of them ended up in intensive care,” Haupt said. “But for ages 5 to 17, it was a very mild year for them.”
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Juxtaposing the results for those age ranges prompted Haupt to assess the season as average, peaking in early January instead of the usual late January and continuing a gradual decline.
Monroe County experienced an upswing in hospitalizations, said county health director Sharon Nelson. Officials tallied seven to nine hospitalizations this season compared with the usual two to three, she said.
“We haven’t had any in the past 60 days,” she said.
But cases declined to Monroe’s north, in Jackson County.
“We didn’t see as many significant cases this year,” said Jackson public health manager Christine Hovell.
Jackson tracked nine hospitalizations from confirmed and probable cases this year, compared with 23 last year, she said.
Even as the flu itself tapers off, “there are upticks in two other respiratory viruses that people often confuse with the flu,” La Crosse County, Gillespie said.
One, human metapneumovirus, has symptoms similar to a cold and can cause pneumonia, she said.
“It’s not huge, but when you hear people talking about bugs they are getting, they have some cold symptoms and bronchitis,” Gillespie said.
The other, an enterovirus, “is a cold-like virus that can mimic the flu and people get body aches and a cold,” she said.
Nationally, 82 pediatric deaths, including two in Wisconsin, have been recorded stemming from the flu this year, compared with more than 100 nationwide last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The tally is far lower than the 348 pediatric deaths during what was considered a pandemic year, lasting from April 2009 to October 2010, according to CDC archives.
Widespread influenza activity continues in five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, according to the CDC.