Archived Story

State confirms 23 flu deaths in first week of January

Published 9:33am Friday, January 11, 2013

St. PAUL — The number of flu-related deaths has jumped dramatically in Minnesota.

During the first week of January, public health officials confirmed another 23 deaths related to influenza in the state, according to a report released Thursday, Jan. 10, by the Minnesota Department of Health. Previously, there had been just four deaths confirmed in the state during the entire flu season, which dates back to September.

Not all of the newly reported deaths actually occurred in January, however, because it takes time for the health department to investigate cases and confirm an influenza link.

Also during the first week of the new year, 401 people were hospitalized with flu, bringing the season’s tally to 1,121 hospitalizations in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health has scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss the worsening flu season.

“We’re having a classic, bad flu year right now,” said Dr. Peter Bornstein, a medical epidemiologist at the St. Paul-based HealthEast system of hospitals and clinics. “It’s our worst year since 2009.”

For weeks, health officials have said that Minnesota has been seeing an early start to its flu season. Whereas the flu seasons that began in 2010 and 2011 were relatively mild in Minnesota, the death this week of a 14-year-old St. Louis Park girl from flu complications provided a grim reminder of influenza’s dangers.

As the tally of flu cases has grown in recent weeks, some hospitals in the state have adopted visitor restrictions to prevent the spread of illness. The true number of influenza cases likely is understated, doctors add, due to a shortage of rapid testing kits.

“We’ve certainly seen an increase in demand for flu shots,” said Dr. Lynne Fiscus, the medical director for clinics in Eagan and Rosemount that are operated by Fairview Health Services. “It’s not too late to get the flu shot.”

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the Minnesota Department of Health said the state clearly is now experiencing a very severe flu season.

“We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger in a prepared statement. “But it’s important to keep this year in perspective: What is occurring has happened before. This is what influenza looks like, this is what it can do. That’s why we stress every year the importance of prevention measures, such as getting a flu shot, covering your cough, washing your hands and staying home if you are ill. We never know at the beginning of a flu season what it’s going to look like.”

STAYING HEALTHY

During flu season, the Minnesota Department of Health says besides getting vaccinated, people can take other steps to avoid spreading or catching the flu.

– Get plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating to keep in good health.

– Stay home from school or work if sick and avoid exposing yourself to others with flu-like illness.

– Cover nose and mouth with a tissue whenever coughing or sneezing, then throw the tissue away. If no tissue available, use sleeve.

– Clean surfaces touched frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.

– Wash hands often with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if not available.


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