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Flu season is here

The flu season, which usually peaks in early February, hadn't peaked in Wisconsin as of last week and is expected to linger well into April, health officials said Wednesday.

A child from southern Wisconsin who had the flu died within the past week, underscoring the seriousness of an unusually prolonged flu season expected to last well into next month, officials said Wednesday.

If confirmed to have been caused by flu, the death would be the second childhood flu death reported in the state this flu season, said Tom Haupt, influenza surveillance coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Nationally, 76 such deaths were reported by March 16.

State officials were notified of the Wisconsin case Tuesday and are discussing it with authorities in Illinois, where the child died, to determine if the cause of death was flu, Haupt said. The child was confirmed to have the flu, he said.

Haupt and health department spokeswoman Jennifer Miller declined to specify the age, gender or county of residence of the child, citing privacy laws.

Overall, 59 flu deaths have been reported in the state this season. That is down from last season, when Wisconsin had the highest number of flu cases on record and 379 flu deaths were reported, including three among children.

But flu activity, which typically peaks in early February, had still not hit its high mark as of last week, Haupt said Wednesday. The last time flu peaked this late was in 2006, he said.

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An influenza A (H3) strain, for which the annual vaccine is typically less effective, accounts for much of the recent activity, Haupt said.

In the week ending March 16, 390 people in Wisconsin were hospitalized for the flu.

Nationwide, flu activity that week was widespread in the vast majority of states, including Wisconsin.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, as the virus could continue to cause trouble for several weeks, Haupt said. People with flu-like symptoms should cough into their sleeves and stay home if possible, he said.

“We don’t want people to become complacent,” Haupt said.

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