Flu cases easing in Austin, Mower County

Published 10:22 am Thursday, January 10, 2013

Though the number of flu cases is continuing to hit Minnesota hard, it appears to be easing in Austin.

Community Health Director Lisa Kocer said the number of people in acute care for the flu has decreased at the medical center.

“It’s not like it was over the holidays, where it was really overwhelming for a while,” Kocer said.

Kocer met with Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin officials Thursday for a regular health update and discussed the recent flu outbreak. According to Kocer, the medical center performed more than 300 flu tests recently and many — though not all of them — came back positive.

Now, the Minnesota Department of Public Health is recommending officials assume cases are the flu.

“We know it’s there,” Kocer said.

According to Kocer, the hospital’s daily bed census was higher than normal, but is back to regular levels. Though flu cases contributed, Kocer said there may have been other factors.

A spokesperson with the Mayo Clinic Health System in Austin said there are visitor restrictions at their clinic, and others say nursing homes are taking precautions, as well.

“The number of patients who are coming in with flu-like symptoms is still significant in Urgent Care, so there are still wait times during various times of the day,” said Robben Crabtree, director of Emergency Services at Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin. “Just because numbers are slightly down from a week ago, doesn’t mean that the spread of influenza has decreased. It may mean that people are listening to the messages and are staying home to decrease the spread of influenza. And it’s not too late to get your flu shot. If you do have symptoms, the flu anti-viral medications are only appropriate for high-risk patients.”

Health officials still urge people to get vaccinated, too.

“There is plenty of vaccine in our community,” Kocer said.

Kocer said the current strains of the flu tend to last a long time — a week or longer — and people are becoming ill suddenly within a few hours.

“That is different than what we’ve had from year’s past,” she said.

According to the Associated Press, health officials say more than 900 people have been hospitalized as the national flu outbreak hits hard in Minnesota. While cases may be declining in Austin, they’re still on the rise elsewhere.

State Epidemiologist Brad Krier told reporters in Mankato that health officials are struggling to keep up with totals that increase daily. This season, the state has five confirmed flu-related deaths.

South-central Minnesota has been particularly hit hard by the flu, with higher numbers than at the height of the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

More than a dozen Minnesota hospitals have imposed restrictions on visitors to protect patients and staff from the flu.

Mayo Clinic Health System spokesman Kevin Burns said businesses could ease the burden on the clinics and hospitals by relaxing their absentee policies so that employees don’t need notes from their providers explaining flu absences.

— Matt Peterson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.