Data released by the Minnesota Department of Health late last week shows the state is experiencing a severe flu season, with significant numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Although the numbers of hospitalizations reported rivals the 2009 pandemic, there is no evidence of a new influenza virus circulating, and state health officials stressed the profile of the disease outbreak is very much in keeping with other very severe seasonal influenza years.
As of late last week, Minnesota hospitals have reported 1,121 hospitalizations due to influenza-like illness.
For the week ending Jan. 5 alone, there were 401 hospitalizations, similar to a peak week in the 2009-10 pandemic. MDH has confirmed a total of 27 deaths so far due to influenza or influenza-related complications.
In addition, there were 28 outbreaks in long-term care facilities over the past week.
“We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed-ward Ehlinger, “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.”
The demographics of Minnesota’s hospitalized cases and deaths are what we expect with seasonal influenza, said Ehlinger.
Of the 1,121 hospitalized persons, 62 percent of the cases are more than 65 years of age and 15 percent are less than 25.
This is in contrast to the 2009 pandemic when 12 percent of hospitalizations were in individuals 65 and older and 61 percent were in those under age 25 years.
Twenty-three of the 27 influenza deaths this year are in people 65 years and older.
Because so many of the serious cases are occurring in long-term care residents, Eh-linger stressed it’s very important for long-term care facilities to make sure all their staff are vaccinated against influenza to help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable residents.
Also, MDH has advised facilities to follow CDC guidelines to limit transmission of the virus, such as restricting visitors, particularly anyone who is ill.
The rapid increase in influenza cases is creating significant challenges for health care partners around the state, Ehlinger said.
However, those areas hardest hit with flu are implementing at least portions of their plans developed for pandemic influenza.
Hospitals, clinics and long-term-care facilities within each region are working together to co-ordinate use of re-sources such as beds, supplies and medicine.
MDH has been en-gaged in regular consultations with regional health care coalitions, keeping health care providers and local public health staff abreast of developments in the situation and any changes in guidance through routine health alerts and advisories.
Page 2 of 2 - “The current influenza situation clearly demonstrates the im-portance of having a strong public health system in place,” Ehlinger said. “We have tapped into our response system, and, while we are being challenged, it appears to be working well.”
It’s important for all Minnesota residents to do what they can to protect themselves from influenza and limit the spread of the disease. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, get vaccinated for influenza. It’s not too late. Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older unless they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
For more info, visit www.health.state.mn.us.