Editor's note: This story has been updated with the most recent statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health, which were released Thursday afternoon. Statistics now include week 1 of 2013, which was Dec. 30, 2012, through Jan. 5, 2013.
This flu season is proving brutal in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Department of Health 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 2012-2013 season. That numbers includes 404 hospitalizations from Dec. 30 through Jan. 5.
Northfield Hospital & Clinics has reported that they, too, were seeing an influx of patients for the widespread outbreak of influenza.
All but a handful of U.S. states have reported a dramatic increase in flu-related illnesses. At least 27 Minnesotans have died, including two otherwise healthy teens: Max Schwolert, 17, and Carly Christenson, a 14-year-old St. Louis Park girl who died Tuesday.
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.
“We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger in a press release. “But it’s important to keep this year in perspective: What is occurring has happened before. 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.
The 27 deaths in Minnesota so far include a total of four younger than 65, Ehlinger said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Authorities are still evaluating other factors that might have contributed to the deaths, including other medical conditions and infections.
Dealing with the flu in Northfield
Betsy Gasior, LPN and site manager at Northfield Urgent Care, said NUC has seen double the patients as they normally do because of flu-like symptoms. Gasior said patients are sicker than usual, which requires more time to examine them, creating longer waits.
"In this busy influenza season, wait times to be seen by a provider have been as much as three hours," Gasior said. "Most days, patients can expect to be at our clinic for an hour to be seen and discharged."
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.
"People should get their flu shot if they haven't yet," Gasior said. "It is not too late."
- Find out where to get a flu shot
On Tuesday, Dec. 11, Greenvale Park Elementary had three students from a single classroom absent and Northfield Middle School had more than 5-percent absence due to influenza-like illness, according to the school district.
Minnesota schools must report to the MDH when 5 percent of the total student enrollment in a building or when three or more children from the same elementary classroom are absent or sent home due to an influenza-like illness.
The district hasn't reported to the Health Department since because it hasn't had enough students absent with flu-like symptoms.
Community members are advised not to visit friends or relatives at the Northfield Hospital if you have a fever or a cough.
- Stay home when ill.
- Cover your cough
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
- Treat symptoms with over the counter medications.
- Only individuals at high risk of complications (over age 65, under age 2, or with chronic diseases) should seek prescribed medication treatment such as antiviral (Tamiflu).
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:
- Who should get vaccinated
- When to get vaccinated
- Selecting a flu vaccine
- Symptoms, complications and severity
- Treatment if you get the flu
- How flu spreads