Flu cases start to pick up in MinnesotaFlu cases in Minnesota are widespread for the first time this season, the state Department of Health reported on Thursday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Flu cases in Minnesota are widespread for the first time this season, the state Department of Health reported on Thursday.
During the week that ended Dec. 28, 71 people were hospitalized with influenza in Minnesota, according to the Health Department’s weekly report. Just three of those were in Northeastern Minnesota, with 59 hospitalizations reported in the metro, central and southeastern regions.
But local health officials say they are starting to see an uptick in the Duluth area as well.
“A little bit after Christmas we started seeing an increased number of cases both in the outpatient and in the hospital setting,” said Cindi Welch, infection prevention manager at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center.
Dr. Andrew Thompson of St. Luke’s hospital said more cases are being reported in the hospital’s clinics, although not in extreme numbers. He said it’s not surprising at this time of the year.
“People have traveled, and they’ve been in other cities and now they’re coming home,” Thompson said. “You know there’s been a lot of mixing going on over the holidays.”
It’s not unusual for flu cases to start to pick up in the metro area first and then spread around the state, said Jennifer Heath, immunization outreach nurse specialist for the state Health Department.
The number of influenza cases is still running behind last year at this time, Heath said. But “over the last couple of weeks it increased rapidly.”
The Wisconsin report won’t be released until today. But the report for the week that ended Dec. 21 identified the northwest as the one region of the state with a high level of flu.
Welch, Thompson and Heath agree it’s not too late to get a flu shot, although Heath added, “You’re cutting it close.”
Don’t wait until someone in your household is sick, Thompson said.
“It takes one to two weeks to become effective,” Thompson noted. “And if the peak of flu hits two weeks from now, it’s way better to be protected than not.”
The website google.org/flutrends, which tracks flu activity on the basis of symptoms people are searching for, suggests a further increase is likely over the next couple of weeks, Thompson said. The site has proven to track flu activity “quite well” a week or two ahead of official data, he said.
Almost all of the cases seen in Minnesota so far have been influenza A, Thompson said, in one of two strains: H1N1 and H3N2. The good news, he said, is that this year’s vaccination covers both.
It is possible to be vaccinated and still get the flu, Thompson said, but the illness probably will be less severe and not last as long as it would have otherwise.
The median age for those hospitalized with flu in Minnesota so far this season is 51. That’s a little younger than normal, Heath said. The H1N1 pandemic in 2009 hit children and young adults particularly hard.
As the flu season ramps up, the old rules still apply, Welch said.
“We want to re-emphasize the importance of good hand hygiene, covering your cough by coughing into your elbow or into a tissue, making sure if you’re not feeling well that you’re not going into public places,” she said.