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Flu snags more victims; Health officials urge vaccination, there is still time

The total number of people in southeast Minnesota with the flu rose by 28 in the first week of the year, bringing the count up to 124 by Jan. 6.

The flu is widespread geographically across the state and one child has died, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s most recent weekly influenza and respiratory illness activity report. It was issued Jan. 11 for the week ending Jan. 6.

The report showed a continued increase in flu activity across Minnesota. The state has seen 1,700 flu-related hospitalizations, 55 outbreaks of influenza-like illness in long-term care facilities, 43 outbreaks in schools and one pediatric flu death this season, the report says.

Health officials say all those indicators point to a potentially severe flu season, and Minnesota may not have seen the peak of the season yet.

Kris Ehresmann, the Health Department’s director of infectious disease, in a statement, says Minnesotans should get their flu shot now if they haven’t already. She says there’s still a lot of flu season left, and that flu easily circulates through April and beyond.

“Rumors that the flu vaccine is not effective this year are misleading,” Ehresmann said. “It is too early for us to know what the flu vaccine effectiveness is for the U.S., and we can’t make predictions based on what happened in other countries like Australia because it’s not an equal comparison.”

Ehresmann said even in a perfectly matched year, the vaccine will not prevent every case of flu. However, more people being vaccinated means more protection in the community so the spread of flu can be limited. There is also evidence that people who are vaccinated have less-severe illness.

National early-season flu vaccination rates released in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that only 39 percent of people 6 months and older had received their flu vaccine. These estimates show a large portion of the population could be vulnerable to flu as activity continues to increase across the country.

The symptoms of flu, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should seek medical care.

People at high risk for complications from flu should contact their health care provider right away if they have symptoms of flu, the Health Department said. Antiviral medications should be prescribed to all hospitalized, severely ill and high-risk patients with confirmed or suspected flu. These drugs work best when treatment is started within two days of symptoms starting but may still be helpful after that time. Both CDC and MDH have notified medical providers of the importance of prescribing antivirals during this flu season.

Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. You can find a flu vaccine clinic near you at mdhflu.com (select “Vaccine Clinic Look-Up”). Flu vaccine also may be given at other locations and times not listed. Check with your doctor’s office, regular walk-in clinic or pharmacy about getting vaccinated against the flu.

Flu vaccines are covered by most insurance plans. If you don’t have insurance, the Minnesota Vaccines for Children program and the Uninsured and Underinsured Adult Vaccine program provide free or low-cost vaccines.

Along with vaccination, health officials remind Minnesotans to prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses by: covering your cough and sneeze; staying home if you are ill and washing your hands often.