The influenza outbreak in Wisconsin during the 2018-2019 flu season was less severe and widespread than the previous season, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services. More than 3,400 people were hospitalized, and there were 126 deaths due to the flu.1 According to the DHS, these respective numbers are down from over 7,500 and 379 during the 2017-2018 season.2 Perhaps related, 40% of Wisconsinites received a flu vaccine last season, a 3% increase from the previous season.

Despite being less severe, last season is believed to be one of the longer flu seasons in recent years, according to state health officials. This was due in part to the late circulation of the A/H3 virus, a more powerful strain than the A/H1 virus that was more prevalent earlier in the season. The A/H3 virus hit adults over the age of 65 particularly hard.3 Both strains were covered by the flu vaccine.

“No matter what strains of the virus are circulating, flu vaccination remains the best way to prevent the flu and its complications,” said Christopher Sobczak, MD, internal medicine and pediatrics physician with the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network. “Everyone six months and older can and should get the flu vaccine.”

What’s new with the 2019-2020 flu season vaccine

The flu vaccine remains relatively the same as last year’s, although updates were made to ensure the vaccine better matches the A/H1 and A/H3 viruses for the 2019-2020 flu season. There are two types of flu vaccine: the nasal spray, or FluMist®, and the shot, which is injected into the arm muscle. Both stimulate the body to make protective antibodies.

For the second straight year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that the nasal spray remains a viable way to receive the flu vaccine. The agency recommends the flu shot for individuals 6 months and older, and if the shot is refused, the nasal spray may only be given to individuals between the ages of 2 and 49.

Why flu vaccines are important

The flu virus evolves quickly, and last year’s vaccine may not protect against this year’s virus. “Flu viruses are constantly changing,” Dr. Sobczak said. “The vaccine composition is reviewed each year and updated as needed based on which flu viruses are making people sick, the extent to which those viruses are spreading and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses.”

The flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four strains of flu that research indicates will be most prevalent during flu season. Every year, CDC researchers study how well flu vaccines work. Recent studies indicate that flu vaccinations reduce the risk of getting sick by anywhere between 40 and 60 percent, when most of the flu viruses circulating in the community are well-matched to the year’s flu vaccine.4 

It takes about two weeks after getting the flu vaccine for the body to develop antibodies and build immunity against the virus. However, getting vaccinated against the flu cannot give you the flu.

“Some people may describe feeling achy or may have a low-grade temperature after getting the vaccine,” Dr. Sobczak said. “This is not the flu. This is the body’s immune response to the vaccine, and it typically resolves in one to two days.”

How flu virus spreads

The flu virus most often spreads through coughs and sneezes by an infected person when respiratory fluid becomes airborne. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object, such as a table or a doorknob, that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

You can pass the flu on to someone else before you show symptoms or after you know you are sick. Flu symptoms begin one to four days after the virus is in the body. According to the CDC, a healthy adult who becomes sick may infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children and some people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for more than seven days.

“It is best for those who have the flu to stay home from work or school,” Dr. Sobczak said. “Try to rest and recover. This will help prevent the virus from spreading to others.”

How to treat the flu

The flu, like the common cold, is a virus.

“It starts suddenly and usually develops with a bad sore throat, body aches, high fever (above 101 degrees Fahrenheit) and, at times, a runny nose,” Dr. Sobczak said.

If you think you may have the flu, talk to your doctor. The flu can last for 10 to 14 days, and antibiotics cannot make it go away.

“There are antiviral medications that can shorten the duration of the flu, if the medications are given early,” Dr. Sobczak said. “Antiviral medications are important in controlling the flu, but they are not a substitute for the vaccination.”

Where to go for flu treatment

Your first thought may be to go to the emergency department, but there are more convenient options within the Froedtert & MCW health network. Usually, flu and other respiratory illnesses begin with mild or moderate symptoms. In these instances, FastCare®, walk-in clinics, urgent care or your primary care physician’s office are ready to treat you. Another option is a virtual clinic visit, where a board-certified physician can provide care through your phone, tablet or laptop’s webcam.

However, if your flu is causing potentially life-threatening signs or symptoms, call 911. This especially holds true if you live with a chronic illness, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart disease.

Get fast, accurate flu treatment in the Froedtert & MCW health network

The Froedtert & MCW health network is hosting flu clinics at its various health centers through Nov. 9. Most clinics run from 8 a.m. to noon. Appointments are required. You can also get your flu shot at a Froedtert & MCW pharmacy:

  • 87th Street Pharmacy
  • Clinical Cancer Center Pharmacy
  • Center for Advanced Care Pharmacy
  • Tosa Health Center Pharmacy
  • Drexel Town Square Health Center Pharmacy
  • Community Memorial Hospital Outpatient Pharmacy
  • Town Hall Health Center Pharmacy

This blog has been updated to include information on the 2019-2020 flu season. It was originally published on Nov. 6, 2018.


1https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/p02346.pdf   

2https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/092418.htm

3https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/news/releases/031519a.htm

4https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm

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