Number of flu cases picking up across statePublished 4:38pm Saturday, January 5, 2013
Mayo Clinic Health System – Austin and Albert Lea is reporting an increase in the number of patients with flu-like symptoms in the last week.
“Throughout the state, we’re seeing more and more cases of influenza,” Community Health Director Lisa Kocer said.
There’s no unique or new strain of the flu, like the H1N1 scares of the past. The big difference this year is timing. Kocer said the flu season seems to be peaking earlier. Usually, it tops out in February, but the first cases of the flu were already being reported in October — at least a month ahead of schedule.
Along with the timing, Kocer said this year is a bit surprising because the last few years have seen light flu seasons.
“It may be more of a typical flu season for us, but it’s earlier,” Kocer said.
The Minnesota Department of Health is is calling south-central Minnesota a “hot spot” because the region is leading the state in influenza-based hospitalization cases per capita.
Hundreds of people have been hospitalized across the state, and Kocer said people have been admitted to the hospital in Austin, Albert Lea and Rochester.
“Many people with respiratory problems coming into acute care,” Kocer said.
Between Dec. 23-29, the state recorded 226 flu cases that required hospitalization.
Statewide so far this flu season, 578 people have been hospitalized. As of Friday, four people had died from complications to the flu.
At least two state hospitals are getting proactive with virus containment measures. New Ulm Medical Center and the Sleepy Eye Medical Center have both implemented temporary visitor restrictions.
Health officials have predicted this could be one of the worst flu seasons in years in Minnesota.
The main message Kocer and other health officials are pushing is that people stay home when sick and get vaccinated.
Officials say it’s not too late to be vaccinated. In fact, Kocer said it’s a common misconception that it’s too late if people don’t get vaccinated by November. It helps at any time of the year, she added.
Health officials advise anyone 6 months and older to get vaccinated annually, especially if other health concerns are involved.
People should also cover their mouth when they cough to prevent spreading germs, wash their hands often and avoid being exposed to others who are sick with a flu-like illness. Serious complications of the flu can occur in the elderly, people with chronic health conditions and children under 5, according to health officials.
People with flu-like symptoms should stay home, rest and drink lots of fluids. It is recommended to stay home at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care.
Kocer urged people to seek treatment if they are concerned about their symptoms.
“If people are concerned, call your providers,” she said.
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.