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Flu cases declining in state, county

Mike Winter grins and bears a flu shot at a recent vaccination clinic. Vaccines are trickling into the area, but most of the supply has been for seasonal flu, not the H1N1 virus. Winter is a seasonal resident with a home on Beauty Lake. He's already had one flu bout this season. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Flu cases, of all varieties and strains, are on the wane throughout the state and in Hubbard County.

"We are seeing fewer sick people," community health director Chris Broeker told the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.

She said there have been fewer school outbreaks, or no outbreaks by the official classifications, fewer people visiting local clinics and fewer patients hospitalized with the flu. A school is deemed to have an outbreak if 5 percent of the student body is out sick, or three students in any one classroom are absent.

The Minnesota Department of Health report this week mirrored that success as the number of verified H1N1 cases dropped for the third week in a row.

But five more Minnesotans died of H1N1 last week, bringing the death toll to 26. Two other cases are being investigated as likely deaths.

"Flu behaves that way," Broeker said. "It comes and goes in waves."

She said local health officials are still frustrated by their inability to get enough vaccines, either for seasonal flu or the H1N1 virus.

Last week, a public flu shot clinic at Nevis turned away 50 people, she said. Other flu vaccination clinics have been canceled.

"It's coming in dribs and drabs," she said of the vaccines. "We're concentrating on a subset of high risk" people: healthcare workers, pregnant women, children, daycare providers and parents of infants, since babies cannot be inoculated.

"There are a number of presentations," she said. "We apply it to the appropriate people" according to Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

And Broeker warned just because the number of sick people has declined, it would be premature of the county to let down its guard.

"We should continue to pursue the vaccines," she cautioned.

But people over 60 have not become infected, she said.

"The likelihood of having a natural immunity is higher," she said. "They've been exposed to swine flu," she said.

Many seniors reported at the various flu shot clinics that getting seasonal flu shots has kept them from contracting the flu altogether.

Knock on wood.

Broeker said seasonal flu "is a combination of strains." Sometimes the vaccines work, sometimes they don't.

She hopes H1N1 vaccines, which have not been widely available yet, will become more attainable by December into January.

"The concern is that H1N1 will migrate into something that will make people sicker," she said.