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Flu impact is minimal in the area

While the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has raised the level of flu in the state to "widespread," the numbers are low locally, especially compared to the high number of cases last year.

While the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has raised the level of flu in the state to "widespread," the numbers are low locally, especially compared to the high number of cases last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines flu as a serious, contagious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches,headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

School officials haven't seen reportable cases

"We are always on the watch for flu," Park Rapids Area Schools district nurse Jennifer Jackson said.

She recommended that parents keep their children home if they are showing flu-like symptoms.

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"If a student has a fever of 100 degrees or higher, they need to go home and they can't return within 24 hours of the last time their fever was high without assistance from medication," she said. "If parents are questioning it, we just always say go into the doctor to get tested. We can assess, but we can't diagnose."

The school calculates the number of absent students with symptoms that could be influenza. If it is 5 percent or higher, that is reported to the state. In the elementary, if there are three or more students with influenza-like illness in the same classroom, that is also reported.

She said she hasn't made any reports so far this flu season.

"It really does vary area to area and school to school," she said. "I watch the weekly influenza reports at MDH as well. The numbers are a lot lower than they were at this time last year. That was a tough flu season."

Hospital has seen few flu cases

Wendy Gullicksrud is the infection control specialist at CHI St. Joseph's. She said the hospital only saw two cases of Influenza A and two cases of Influenza B in December.

"We haven't seen much activity in the Park Rapids area," she said. "Last year was way worse."

Gullicksrud said because of the low numbers of flu reported she has not had to close the hospital to visitors as has been done in the past. "We just put on our Facebook page that if people are sick they should not visit," she said.

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Gullicksrud said the flu vaccine covers two strains of the "A" influenza and two of the "B" strains.

"Usually we don't know how effective the vaccine was until after the season is over, but the last I heard, the Department of Health said they felt it was a pretty good match this year," she said.

Gullicksrud said people who have not been vaccinated yet can absolutely get their flu shot now.

"We're still on our way into the heaviest of the season, so it's not too late," she added.

Community Health is a flu resource

Marlee Morrison is the Community Health Director and a public health nurse. "We did our series of flu shot clinics in the fall, but it is definitely not too late to get a flu shot at this time if you haven't already," she said.

Morrison said those age 6 months to 3 years receive a lower dose of the vaccine.

"We want them to get a flu shot and also anyone who takes care of young children," she said.

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She said the longstanding rumors that shots cause the flu are not true. "The flu vaccine is not a live vaccine," she said. "You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. It just creates antibodies in your body to fight the flu."

Morrison explained that influenza is a respiratory illness. "Babies under six months can't get the flu shot, so it's very important for the people who surround infants to be protected so they won't pass the flu on," she added.

Flu shots are available by contacting providers. Community health can help people find financial assistance to pay for the vaccine.

"We are a really good resource for people who have questions," she said.

Contact Community Health at 237-5464 for more information.

Tracking the flu

MDH tracks flu in the state through a variety of sources, including reports from hospitals and health care providers, long-term care facilities, schools and laboratories.

According to the latest report released on Jan. 12, there have been 218 total hospitalizations due to the flu so far this season (Sept 30-Jan. 12). That includes 28 hospitalizations for the week ending Jan. 12 and 46 hospitalizations the first week in January.

The highest number of hospitalizations were in the Metro area, with 16 last week and a total of 136 this flu season.

In contrast, northwestern Minnesota only saw one hospitalization last week and four to date this flu season.

Those numbers are low compared to last year's flu season which ended with a total of 6,446 hospitalizations and 435 deaths, the highest numbers in the past six years.

There were 14 schools in the state reporting flu outbreaks the week of Jan. 12 out a total of 39 outbreak reports this season.

Healthcare providers in the state are seeing relatively low numbers of patients with flu-like illnesses, around three percent in the past two weeks.

The same is true at long-term care facilities, with no outbreaks reported in the past two weeks and only two reports this season.

Numbers reported at hospitals for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) are higher than reports of flu. There have been 90 hospitalizations in the past two weeks in the state, and a total of 560 hospitalizations since September. The average age of those hospitalized was 9 months.

Sidebar:

Flu prevention tips from the CDC

The CDC recommends three actions to fight the flu:

• A yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months or older. Vaccinations are especially important for people at high risk persons including young children, pregnant women, people with a chronic health condition (asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease) and those 65 or older. Vaccinations are also important for health care workers or anyone who cares for those at high risk.

• Take preventative actions to stop the spread of germs. Try to avoid contact with people who are sick. Avoid touching your nose or mouth. Wash hands often with soap and water when available or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Clean and disinfect objects that may be contaminated with germs. The CDC also recommends anyone who has flu-like symptoms stay home until the fever is gone for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine. Those who are sick should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and limit contact with others when possible.

• See a physician to learn if antiviral drugs are recommended. They may prevent serious complications from the flu in people with high risk factors. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful.

Related Topics: PARK RAPIDS
Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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