Four deaths in Wisconsin so far, as flu season arrives early

MILWAUKEE -- Despite the mild weather in early December in Wisconsin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the flu is here -- and this year could be a bad year. Four deaths related to the flu have already been reported in Wisconsin.

The prominent strain so far is H3N2 -- a strain the CDC says is usually associated with a severe flu season. 

Overall, the state of Wisconsin has seen 113 confirmed cases of the flu this season, compared with just seven at this time last year.

Over the past few years, the flu hasn't really hit Wisconsin until January or February, but health experts say it is off to an early start. Health officials are encouraging anyone who's able to protect themselves by getting a flu shot.

"It works. The influenza vaccine works. It's the best way to prevent influenza," Dr. Paul Hartlaub said.

Experts at the Milwaukee Health Department say they agree, and call the early flu statistics "a wake up call." 

Geoffrey Swain is the department's medical director. He says the strain of influenza that's going around can be more serious, or virulent.

"We're not surprised to see hospitalizations and deaths when we see H3N2 circulate," Swain said.

Swain says this season's flu vaccine appears to be a good match for the type of flu that's circulating, so it makes getting vaccinated even more important to keep the flu from spreading. 

"The people that are most likely to be hospitalized or die from influenza are young children -- especially those less than six months of age who can't be vaccinated, pregnant women and the elderly," Swain said.

Health experts say the vaccine really is the best defense to make sure adults and kids stay healthy this flu season.