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Northland hospitals feeling the effects of flu

(thinkstock.com)

The flu bug is pushing its way into area hospitals.

"We are seeing it," said Dr. Harmony Tyner, an infectious-disease specialist at St. Luke's hospital. "We're seeing what the rest of the state is seeing. We've dedicated part of a floor, our seventh floor, to influenza-like illnesses."

Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet also has been seeing more people with influenza recently, said Shelly Demers, director of staff education and infection prevention. Some of them have been hospitalized, she said.

The Minnesota Department of Health's weekly update has shown influenza to be widespread across the state each of the past two weeks. The most recent numbers, for the week ending Jan. 28, show that flu is beginning to emerge.

Among 508 people hospitalized with flu all season in Minnesota, 134 of them were hospitalized just that week, according to the report. Of 57 respiratory illness outbreaks in schools, 18 occurred that week. Among 37 confirmed influenza outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 11 took place in the most recent week.

Wisconsin showed a spike in flu reports the same week, with all but the far southeast corner of the state rated "moderate" for flu by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, up from "below baseline" levels for most of the state until recently.

The Minnesota and Wisconsin figures reflect a nationwide uptick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of the end of January, it reported the flu to be widespread in 40 states plus Puerto Rico. Only in the U.S. Virgin Islands has no flu appeared so far, according to the CDC.

Nationally, seven pediatric deaths were reported that week out of a total of 15 so far this season, according to the CDC. None of the childhood deaths were in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Children die every year because of the flu in the United States. The total in 2015-16 was 89; the previous season, it was 148.

Regional health providers contacted for this story said only the usual precautions are being taken to keep influenza out of their facilities.

No restrictions on visitors are in place at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center, spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said.

Community Memorial Hospital is following the procedure it follows year-round, Demers said. Masks are provided for those who have a respiratory illness, and people who don't feel well are encouraged to stay home.

Lakeshore Ecumen, a short-term-care facility, has been fortunate to have no cases of the flu so far, said Veronica Olsen, director of nursing. Lakeshore is taking the usual precautions, she said, encouraging everyone in or visiting the facility to wash their hands and to practice proper "cough etiquette."

At St. Luke's, employees and visitors are asked to stay away from the hospital if they have an influenza-like illness, Tyner said. The symptoms that should keep you from visiting, she said, are cough, body aches, a fever of 100.3 or greater and headache. You should be over a fever for at least 24 hours, without use of drugs such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, before you come to the hospital as a visitor, she said.

This year's vaccine has proven to be a good match for both the "A" and "B" strains of this year's influenza, Tyner said.

She has mostly seen the "A" strain, Tyner said. "That's usually the bigger bully of the two."

Demers said both strains have been seen at Community Memorial.

It's still not too late to get a flu shot, Tyner said. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.

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