This flu season is proving brutal in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) now reporting 27 deaths in the state, including 23 that officials have been able to confirm as flu-related since Dec. 30.
Since the start of the influenza season, 1,121 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, according to the MDH reports for the 2012–13 season. That number includes 401 hospitalizations for the week ending Jan. 5.
Unity Hospital in Fridley put out a plea on Facebook for patients to use remote methods to seek care and advice if possible:
We're seeing an increase in patient visits with flu-like symptoms. MyChart can help you avoid long waits and added exposure from other sick patients through e-Visits.
Unity's parent organization, Allina Health, explained in a statement Thursday asking patients to consider
an e-Visit first during the flu surge to avoid long waits at clinics, urgent care sites and emergency rooms, along with the added exposure from other sick patients. Allina Health patients can schedule an e-Visit online via MyChart. Adults (17 and older) with flu-like symptoms can use e-Visits instead of going to the clinic, emergency room or urgent care in person.
MDH officials say the number of those hospitalized throughout the state rivals those seen during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, but that there is no evidence that the current wave of illnesses is prompted by a new virus.
"What is occurring has happened before," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said in a news release. "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.”
In addition to the 27 deaths reported so far, MDH officials say there were 28 outbreaks in long-term care facilities over the past week.
Of those hospitalized, 62 percent over older than 65 and 15 percent and younger than 25, Ehlinger said. However, the list of victims includes two otherwise healthy teens: Max Schwolert, 17, and Carly Christenson, a 14-year-old St. Louis Park girl who died Tuesday.
The 27 deaths in Minnesota so far include a total of four younger than 65, Ehlinger said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. One of those four is younger than 18, officials at the press conference said. Authorities are still evaluating other factors that might have contributed to the deaths, including other medical conditions and infections.
"Influenza is a severe illness," Ehlinger said. "People die from influenza. ... Because [the vaccination] is not 100 percent effective, it's important that more people get the vaccine" to reduce the overall pool of infected people who could pass influenza to more vulnerable populations.
Because so many of the serious cases are occurring in long-term care residents, Ehlinger stressed that it’s very important for long-term care facilities to make sure that all their staff are vaccinated against influenza to help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable residents. Also, MDH is advising facilities to follow guidelines designed to limit transmission of the virus, such as restricting visitors, particularly anyone who is ill.
When asked at the press conference, health officials stopped short of recommending schools curtail after-school activities.
Ehlinger said those areas hardest hit with flu are implementing portions of plans developed for pandemic influenza. Hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities within each region are coordiating the use of resources such as beds, supplies and medicines.
At this time last year, flu cases were lower in Minnesota than they are now, according to data on Google's Flu Trends. (Northfield-specific data is not available on Flu Trends, but flu cases in the Twin Cities metro are in line with the state as a whole.)
Overall in Minnesota, activity is categorized as "intense," while it was categorized as "low" at this time in 2011, according to Flu Trends.
Community members are advised to:
- Stay home when ill.
- Cover your cough
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Treat symptoms with over the counter medications.
- Seek prescribed medication treatment such as antiviral (Tamiflu) only ig you'tr sn individual at high risk of complications (older than 65, younger than 2, or with chronic diseases).
All healthy visitors are reminded to:
- Clean your hands after arriving and before departing;
- Use a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze;
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following information: