Influenza season worse than recent years, normal overallMinnesotans are getting influenza left and right, but what seems like a high number of illnesses may simply be average, health officials say.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Minnesotans are getting influenza left and right, but what seems like a high number of illnesses may simply be average, health officials say.
“Because the past two flu seasons have been so mild, even though this one is seemingly worse it’s probably just a normal season,” said Vicki Iocco, public health nurse with the Goodhue County Health and Human Services Disease Prevention and Control Program.
According to Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Division at the Minnesota Department of Health, the number of influenza cases during the past several years has been minor, making 2012-13 look more severe than it actually is.
Another factor contributing to people’s worries about an extreme season of influenza is how early Minnesota’s first case was discovered. MDH officials confirmed a case in October, when they typically don’t see first cases until after Thanksgiving.
“That’s why we usually try to get people to have their immunizations by the first part of November, so that they have a couple weeks to build up their immunity so it’s going to be protective,” explained Dr. Tom Witt, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System locations in Red Wing, Cannon Falls and Lake City.
Since the beginning of the season, the Department of Health has seen more than 575 people hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza. Additionally, four influenza-related deaths have been reported.
“You’d have to go back to 2009 when we had the influenza pandemic to see this much activity,” Witt said.
Locally, Mayo Clinic locations have confirmed 35 cases of influenza in Red Wing, 17 in Cannon Falls and less than a handful in Lake City.
The only problem with official numbers, Witt noted, is that the Department of Health considers something to be influenza if the symptoms — fever, cough and sore throat, among others — are present and there’s no other explanation for them.
“Basically the presumption is it’s influenza until proven otherwise,” he said. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck ….”
Individual data is not all that’s being collected. MDH is also sharing information about outbreaks throughout the season. As of the final week of 2012, MDH reported that 31 outbreaks of influenza have been confirmed in long-term care facilities.
“In a nursing home, one lab-confirmed case is considered an outbreak,” Iocco explained.
As far as schools throughout the state go, at least 133 outbreaks of influenza-like illness have been reported.
Although health officials tend to put extra focus on young children and the elderly when they promote flu vaccinations, everyone is encouraged to take precautions to avoid influenza if they can.
“It’s kind of one of those things that if you’re generally healthy, influenza can still knock you down,” Witt said.
To avoid the spread of the disease, people are advised to stay home if they think they might be getting sick, cover their mouth when they sneeze and wash their hands regularly.
“It still goes back to some of the basics,” Witt said.
What’s more, he added, it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
“You still get to catch two or three months of protection,” Witt said. “While nothing’s 100 percent, a flu shot, if it doesn’t prevent it, is going to modify it.”