Flu hits Minnesota late this year

Flu season has arrived.

Flu cases statewide have spiked since mid-February after a quiet fall and early-winter season, according to Minnesota Department of Health statistics. There have been 539 hospitalizations statewide due to flu this season – about two-thirds of them in the last three weeks alone, MDH reports.

“We’ve had a relatively mild season, with fewer cases than we anticipated compared to last year,” say Dr. Donald Lum, an emergency department physician at Northfield Hospital. “We’re now starting to see a surge in cases.”

If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, there’s some urgency to doing it now.

“It generally takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective,” Dr. Lum says.

Centers for Disease Control reports that this season’s flu vaccine is nearly 60% effective against all strains of flu that are now circulating. With several weeks of flu activity still to come, getting vaccinated now can still offer protection. The vaccine (shot or nasal spray) helps protect you from getting the flu and prevents you from passing it to people who could get very sick.

Those most at risk of getting very sick from flu are people 65 and older; young children, especially under 2 years old; pregnant women; and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

“Adults with significant chronic medical conditions that might lower their immune system are more susceptible to complications of influenza, such as pneumonia,” Dr. Lum adds. “That includes patients on chemotherapy or other medications that tend to lower immunity.”

Although these groups are at highest risk, anyone can become very sick with flu.

Symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, headache, and extreme tiredness. Symptoms can come on quickly and be severe.

 Go to the doctor or the emergency room if you are having these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but return with worse fever and cough

A variety of factors could be behind the late start of the season. A relatively mild winter means less crowding of people in closed, congregated spaces for the virus to spread easily. Plus, this year’s vaccine may be more effective in the combination of strains that it treats, Dr. Lum says.

If you think you have the flu, stay home; avoid contact with others. Rest and drink lots of fluids. If you are in a high-risk group, call your health care provider for advice.

How to protect yourself and others

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Avoid being around others who are sick.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Don’t expose infants to large crowds or sick family members when flu is in your community.
  • Don’t share drinking cups and straws.
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces often (door knobs, refrigerator handles, phones, and water faucets).

Source: Minnesota Department of Health