Flu season arrives early | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Flu season arrives early

Posted: January 6, 2013 - 9:15pm

Minnesota’s influenza activity level spiked at the end of 2012, earlier than the previous two seasons and is now widespread.

The influenza outbreak reached the widespread activity level about seven weeks earlier than in 2010-11 and 11 weeks earlier than last season. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports influenza is widespread across the eastern half of the country.

During the last week of December, 226 people were hospitalized with confirmed influenza cases in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reported since the start of the influenza season, 578 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza and four influenza-related deaths were confirmed.

Seventeen long-term care facilities reported confirmed outbreaks of flu-like illnesses and the percentage of influenza-like illness visits to outpatient clinics.

The most commonly cultured strain identified by MDH so far this season is influenza A/H3.

For the 2011-12 flu season Minnesota statistics, 552 people were hospitalized with confirmed flu cases and 33 deaths were reported. There were 41 influenza outbreaks. In the 2010-11 season, 972 people hospitalized and 70 deaths.

Influenza is not a head cold or a stomach virus.

Instead it is a contagious respiratory disease that attacks the nose, throat and lungs with a mild to severe illness that, in some cases, may lead to death. Symptoms include a fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, body aches and stuffed-up nose. Influenza is different from the common cold as the Department of Health notes people with the cold, which typically stays in the head, will usually be able to keep up normal activities while a person with influenza will often be too sick to keep up with their routine.

People with the greatest risk of a severe influenza illness are children younger than 5 years, those 65 and older, pregnant women and people with chronic health issues like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or weakened immune systems or neurological conditions.

Hospitalizations and visits to the Emergency Department and clinics for flu-related illness has increased in the past couple of weeks, Essentia Health reported.

Essentia Health recommends vaccinations as the best way to protect against the flu and notes it isn’t too late to get them. Flu vaccine remains available. The cost of a flu vaccine is covered by Medicare Part B, Medicaid and most private insurance companies.

The CDC recommends a flu vaccine for anyone who is six months old or older. It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine. The CDC indicates the strains of flu being seen this year are a good match to the strains in the vaccine. Some people who get the flu shot may still get the flu but typically symptoms will be milder, Essentia Health reported.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from the flu,” said Kari Russell, registered nurse, infection preventionist at Essentia Health, in a news release. “Other precautions you should take include cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs, and not going to work or school if you are sick.”

Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Essentia Health noted when those symptoms are present the CDC recommends individuals stay home for 24 hours after the fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Essentia Health is encouraging the public not to visit patients in the hospital if they have a fever or cough.

St. Cloud Hospital is also discouraging visitors with fever or a cough from visiting hospitalized patients and thanked people for their cooperation during a challenging influenza season.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.