UW Health: Flu cases have more than quadrupled since start of month

MADISON, Wis. — Flu cases at UW Health more than quadrupled in the first three weeks of November, hospital officials warned Tuesday.

The healthcare provider saw 422 positive cases last week and 190 the week before, more than any peak the hospital has had dating back to 2019-20. Last season’s highest week was 125 cases in late November.

“What was a bit concerning, I think it was two weeks ago, we had just under 200 cases of influenza diagnosed throughout our emergency departments, urgent cares, clinics at UW Health, and then two weeks later, now, we diagnosed 400 cases last week. That’s a really significant jump in cases and a bit unusual,” UW Health’s chief quality officer Dr. Jeff Pothof said.

Officials said UW Health has not seen a dramatic increase in hospitalizations due to the virus, but there have been twice as many cases this year compared to this time last year.

Unity Point Health-Meriter has also seen higher flu numbers. While the hospital does not track cases, it does track hospitalizations. The hospital has had 14 flu hospitalizations so far this season, compared to three at this point last year.

Statewide, the latest respiratory virus surveillance report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said the laboratory percent positive for influenza A went from 7% to 14% for the week ending Nov. 19. Despite influenza cases increasing, the report said respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was still the predominant virus for the week.

The last two flu seasons have been relatively mild, thanks in large part due to precautions taken to stop COVID-19.

As for why cases may be so high this year, Pothof said, “it could be that there’s kind of this rebound thing where we haven’t been able to really gather during the holidays for two years, we might kind of overdo it this year, have more people together. We want to hang out with folks. That was hard going through COVID-19. That just increases the likelihood that influenza can spread easily and we see more people with that disease.”

Doctors recommend people get vaccinated, stay home when sick and cover their coughs to prevent spreading the virus.