Emergency rooms see flu patients without typical flu symptoms

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It probably comes as no surprise to people that the flu is spreading rapidly through Wisconsin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have moved the Badger State into the "high" category.

"It's been very intense this year. It's hitting our community pretty hard," Shannon Archambo, a nurse practitioner with Prevea Health, said.

"The numbers we saw last year at this time were only 55 cases within the Prevea system. So far, as of today, I heard there were 272 cases of positive flu," Archambo added.

Finding empty rooms at Aurora BayCare's emergency room in Green Bay isn't easy these days with so many people coming in with the flu.

"It's definitely ramping up. Right now we're seeing a ton of it coming in," Dr. Kerry Ahrens, an emergency medicine physician at BayCare Clinic said.

The respiratory flu brings fever, severe body aches and respiratory congestion far worse than a common cold.

But while those are common symptoms, doctors are seeing some patients, including kids, with other symptoms that make patients or their parents question whether it's the flu.

Ahrens sees people coming in with more than just the usual symptoms.

"They're also having stomach pain in some people where it acts like it's a severe cramping, some diarrhea sometimes, which is weird, because that's not a typical finding with your influenza, your respiratory influenza, and this is completely different than the stomach flu."

Dr. Ahrens says the flu hits hardest in people younger than 5, older than 65, or with compromised immune systems.

Those are the only people she'll prescribe symptom-reducing Tamiflu to. She says most people can ride it out at home.

For the healthy ones, we all know frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizer are key, but Ahrens says health people are missing a big one: They should be wearing masks.

"If you wear a face mask and you're in the presence of someone who has the flu, it decreases the chances of getting it by approximately 80 percent," Ahrens said.

Doctors still urge people who didn't get vaccinated to get the flu shot. It may not be effective at stopping the prevalent strain hitting the U.S., but doctors are seeing many (though not all) vaccinated people are getting much less severe symptoms and recovering much faster.

"It isn't 100 percent effective, but for the people who have gotten the flu after having had the shot, their symptoms are much less," Archambo affirmed.