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Flu season intensifies in MN

By  |  Wednesday, January 2, 2013 10:20 AM

The flu season is intensifying in Minnesota.

The state has seen a second influenza-related death of the season, according to a Thursday, Dec. 27, report from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Plus, another 123 people were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed flu cases during the week of Dec. 16, according to the health department’s latest weekly report on influenza.

The one-week tally provided a big bump in the total number of flu hospitalizations in the state, which now stands at 297 for the current season.

“The season is really picking up,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease epidemiology at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Influenza season typically stretches from October to April and this year’s season is off to a quicker and more severe start than the seasons that started in 2008, 2010 and 2011. All three seasons were unusually mild, Ehresmann said.

Flu tallies from 2009 offer a difficult comparison, she added, because the United States was dealing with a pandemic flu bug that first hit during early summer and “kind of obliterated any seasonal influenza.”

“We are at least having a regular influenza season,” Ehresmann said. “And it may be — we’ll be able to tell in a couple of weeks, with a few more data points — that this is going to be a more severe season.”

In the past week to 10 days, more patients have been hospitalized with confirmed flu cases at hospitals operated by St. Paul-based HealthEast, said Boyd Wilson, the system’s director for infection prevention. Over the past weekend, Wilson added, the HealthEast system saw more emergency room patients complaining of flu-like symptoms.

HealthEast operates St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul and Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury.

During the week of Dec. 16, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota admitted 10 kids to the hospital with flu and saw a significant increase in the number of laboratory confirmed cases.

The flu season typically builds until February, said Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and director of the infectious disease division at Children’s. If the typical pattern holds, “we have a ways to go and could still see significant amount of influenza in kids,” Stinchfield said.

But two key hospitals operated by Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services have not seen a spike in influenza, said spokesman Ryan Davenport. Flu tallies thus far have been “typical,” Davenport said, at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview as well as the U’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

This year, Minnesota is one of 29 states in the country with widespread influenza, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The health department recommends flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older unless medical reasons prevent it. Vaccination is especially important, the health department says, for those at high risk for serious flu complications, including pregnant women, seniors, young children and those with chronic medical problems.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated, although there’s no reason to wait,” Ehresmann said.

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