The flu is here, and it appears it has come in force.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), there have been nearly 600 people hospitalized across the state with influenza or influenza-like symptoms, and as of Friday there were four people who have died. That is since this past October when the first cases of influenza were reported.
According to Julie Fiala, Redwood Area Hospital infection prevention coordinator, the area has seen a significant increase in people who have influenza and influenza-like illness. Those people are coming into the local hospital’s emergency room and are being admitted to the hospital. Fiala said the number of confirmed cases of influenza in the state, as reported by MDH, is higher now than it was during all of the 2011-12 flu season.
The cases of influenza arrived early this year, said Fiala, as they began showing up in October. Quite often, she added, the first cases are not detected until the end of November, with a peak some time in late January or into February.
According to Fiala, the strain of influenza being seen most often this season is H3N2, which she said tends to cause more severe illness than other strains.
She added more people end up hospitalized who have this flu strain.
Fiala surmised one of the reasons why the occurrences of influenza is more significant this year is fewer people got flu shots this year. A relatively mild flu season in 2011-12 may have led some to decide not to get the flu shot this time.
Although many have not yet gotten the flu shot this season, Fiala said there is still time to get it, adding the strains which are showing up are included in the vaccine being offered this season.
According to Fiala, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and she said the effectiveness is about 60 percent. That, she added, is certainly better than zero for those who do not get a shot.
Fiala reminded the public the flu shot is not just a safeguard for those who get it but also for those around you, especially those who may be at risk for more sever illness should they get the flu.
When it comes to prevention measures, Fiala recommended several tips:
• Wash your hands – Do this regularly, and if you can’t get to soap and water use hand sanitizer gel.
• If you are sick, stay home. Don’t spread influenza by going to work, school or visiting others.
• Use common sense when it comes to avoiding the flu.
Fiala said influenza comes on fast with a high fever, cough, body aches and headache. She said people with influenza often say they feel as if they have been “hit by a truck.”
Page 2 of 2 - With multiple influenza patients being hospitalized and seen in the emergency room, as well as significant traffic through the hospital, hospital officials felt it made sense of limit visitors to the facility.
The idea, she added, is to reduce exposure to and spread of influenza amongst the patients, visitors and staff.
Fiala said the hospital encourages all of its staff to get a flu shot, and 90 percent of the staff do get one each year.
It is especially important, said Fiala, for young children, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions and anyone who may have contact with these groups to get a flu shot. She added it is recommended and important for anyone six months of age or older to get the vaccine.
The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Admin-istration, decided this year’s vaccine should include H1N1, H3N2 and the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses in the vaccine.
According to MDH, this could be one of the worst flu seasons in many years. There were more than 120 people in Minnesota hospitalized during the last full week of December, and it does not appear that trend is going to change any time soon statewide.
More information on the flu, from prevention to symptoms, can be found online at the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov or at the MDH Web site at www.flu.gov.