December 18, 2014

Wisconsin headed into peak flu season

Wisconsin is headed into the peak of what is shaping up to be a challenging flu season. Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said reported hospitalizations due to influenza have increased steadily the past two weeks. There were 252 confirmed hospitalizations as of Friday, December 12.

“I can tell you, looking at the statistics, there’s going to be a big increase this week as well,” Haupt said. “About 62% percent of the hospitalizations have been among the elderly population.”

Most of the cases have been influenza H-3, and this year’s vaccine has not been as effective against that strain. Still, Haupt said it’s still a good idea to get the shot. “I always use the analogy that, if you go out in the middle of winter and it’s ice-cold, even a light jacket will give you some protection, versus having no jacket at all,” he said.

“Bottom line is I think this is going to be a bad influenza year,” said Dr. Jon Tempte at the UW Department of Family Medicine. “The predominant virus in circulation tends to be one that causes much more in the way of hospitalization, more complications of underlying medical conditions, and unfortunately causes more deaths than some of the other strains do.”

Haupt with DHS said that – based on observations – he expects the peak in flu cases to arrive with the New Year, with high activity continuing for another month or so.

Ricin cleanup under way in Oshkosh

Kyle Smith

Kyle Smith

Hazardous materials crews from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Wisconsin National Guard spent the day Wednesday decontaminating and testing an Oshkosh house, where suspended UW-Oshkosh student Kyle Smith, 21, allegedly made Ricin.

Doug Gieryn is the public health officer for Winnebago County. He says they cleaned several parts of the house where they knew there was Ricin, and tested several other areas, where traces may exist. Gieryn says they hope to wrap up their work today.

The FBI barred people from going into the house since Ricin was found there in late October. Smith was charged earlier this month in federal court with possession of ricin. If found guilty of the offense Smith faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Thanks to Rick Schuh, WHBY

Dozens sent to hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide detector

Carbon monoxide detector

A zamboni caused a carbon monoxide leak that made 81 people sick at a junior league hockey game in Lake Delton on Saturday night. Fire officials said yesterday that the ice-resurfacing machine produced high levels of carbon monoxide in the Poppy Waterman ice arena. It will stay closed until the zamboni is fixed. Repairs are expected to begin today.

Players on the Wisconsin Dells Ducks and Rochester Ice Hawks started getting dizziness and headaches after their game. One player reportedly fainted. Many of the players and spectators were gone by then, so rescuers were sent to a number of locations to contact people who were at the game. Those with flu-like symptoms were either sent to a hospital or were encouraged to go. Hospitals in Baraboo, Mauston, Reedsburg, and Portage saw the patients. Most were treated and later released. One Wisconsin Dells player was sent to a Milwaukee hospital for hyperbaric treatment.

Wisconsin health officials push for flu shots before the holidays

As the holidays approach, state health officials are urging the public to get a flu shot before they head out to parties and family gatherings.

Getting a shot or a dose of the nasal mist version can help ensure none of the gifts you give or receive this year include the virus. It takes about a week for the vaccine to be effective, which h Wisconsin Immunization Program Director Dan Hopfensperger says  says means “we still have plenty of time to get a flu shot before Christmas, to make sure people stay protected against influenza as we go into the holiday season.”

The flu season got off to an early start this year, with almost 200 hospitalizations already reported. There have been concerns that the one of the strains used in the vaccine this year is not a perfect match, although Hopfensperger contends having some level of protection is still better than none at all.

In addition to getting vaccinated, Hopfensperger says you should make sure to wash your hands frequently during holiday gatherings and, if you’re already sick, stay home to avoid spreading the illness to others.

Feds allow Indian tribes to grow pot, Wisconsin DOJ not on board

Marijuana plant (file photo)

Marijuana plant (file photo)

Indian tribes that grow pot won’t be prosecuted by federal officials.

The U.S. Justice Department is relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws on sovereign lands, but Indian tribes in Wisconsin are not expected to start growing or selling pot any time soon.

State Attorney General JB Van Hollen will continue to enforce Wisconsin laws against growing and selling the drug, including on Indian reservations. Spokesperson Dana Brueck says officers will enforce all state drug laws within its jurisdiction and continue to work with tribal police in their efforts to combat drugs and gangs on tribal lands. She says, “If the federal government wishes to decriminalize certain drugs, it should do so through Congress as opposed to through executive officers who are sworn to uphold the law, picking and choosing which laws to enforce and where to enforce them based on political considerations.”

Regardless of the changes, federal officials say charges are still possible when marijuana use leads to intoxicated driving, or when the drug is sold to minors. The new policy comes after a 2013 decision to end most federal marijuana prosecutions in states where the drug has been legalized.