Influenza activity slows but is still widespread throughout the state
Influenza activity appears to have peaked in Minnesota, but it continues at a relatively high level and is still widespread.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported 135 hospitalizations due to laboratory-confirmed influenza for the week ending Jan. 26, bringing the total so far this season to 2,367.
MDH confirmed 37 deaths due to influenza or complications from influenza during the week, bringing the total to 112.
There were 8 outbreaks in long-term care facilities reported and 36 school outbreaks.
It should be noted that the indicators of influenza activity MDH uses lag behind what is occurring in communities at the moment. Deaths, in particular, take time to be investigated and confirmed by MDH as influenza-related.
The vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths continue to occur among the elderly.
Influenza can cause a viral pneumonia, and influenza can be a gateway for secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia. In addition, people with certain medical conditions can have a worsening of their condition when they are ill with influenza.
In years in which H3N2 is the predominant strain, we typically see more severe cases of illness, particularly in the very young and the elderly, and more cases overall.
Hospitals and clinics generally are still busy throughout the state, but visits for influenza appear to be declining.
Regional healthcare coalitions continue to monitor hospital bed count and resource needs. This public/private partnership between public health, hospitals, clinics and local business partners continues to play a critical role in the success of Minnesota's response to influenza.
MDH is still encouraging people to be vaccinated. It is not too late to get vaccinated. The goal is to use all doses of vaccine available.
Because people with medical conditions or the elderly, who are at high risk for influenza complications may not have the best immune response to the vaccine, it is important that those around them are vaccinated.
Many of the deaths are occurring in the elderly - over 66 percent were in those over age 80 - so it is very important that those who live, visit or work around the elderly, particularly health care workers and long-term care workers, are vaccinated.
While the vaccine doesn't offer perfect protection, it is still the best tool for preventing influenza and its complications.
The CDC recently released a report that estimated 60 percent effectiveness for this year's flu vaccine against medically attended influenza. This is a preliminary estimate.
Given this level of efficacy, some vaccinated persons will become ill with influenza. Therefore, antivirals should be used as recommended for at risk patients regardless of their vaccination status.
Antivirals continue to be available. Pediatric suspensions are the only formulation for which FDA is reporting intermittent shortages. Pharmacists can compound their own pediatric formulations.
What else you can do
Most people can fight the flu at home with rest and fluids. If you or your child develop concerning symptoms, call your health care provider. If you are at risk for becoming very ill from influenza, call your health care provider as soon as symptoms of flu illness develop - they will determine whether influenza testing and possible treatment are needed.
MDH and the CDC recommend that everyone get vaccinated for influenza, but especially those at high risk for complications from influenza. Those include:
n Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old.
n Adults 65 years of age and older.
n Pregnant women.
n American Indians and Alaskan Natives seem to be at higher risk of flu complications.
n People who have medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disease, kidney and liver disorders and others.
During flu season, besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps people can take to avoid spreading or catching influenza:
n Do your best to stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating.
n Stay home from school or work if you have a respiratory infection. Avoid exposing yourself to others who are sick with flu-like illness.
n Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
n Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
n Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
Symptoms, treatment, etc.
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician.
Influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics which are used against bacteria are not effective against it. Antivirals such as oseltamivir and zanamivir can be used against influenza.
More information on influenza can be found at www.mdhflu.com.