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Update: Flu Season 2013: Rates Increase in Minnesota; 60 Deaths Now Reported

More than 1,1842 hospitalized; Minnesota Department of Health urges precautions. Area hospitals continue to take precautions.

Update Jan. 18, 2013

The influenza outbreak of 2012-13 has now killed 60 Minnesotans and hospitalized 1,842, according to information released today by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The department’s second weekly report on the flu outbreak more than doubles the number of reported deaths in the state; which totaled 27 last week.

The total number of deaths is now nearly as high as that of the swine flu outbreak of 2009-10, which killed 67 Minnesotans. The number of flu-related hospitalizations actually exceeds the total of 2009-10.

According to a Fox 9 news report, 88 percent of the deaths were patients age 65 or older, making up 53 of the 60 fatal cases this season. There were no deaths in the past week involving patients younger than 24.

The department’s latest report also showed that flu has struck a total of 107 skilled nursing facilities in the state, as well as 254 schools.

Original article Jan. 11, 2013

This flu season is proving brutal in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) now reporting 27 deaths in the state, including 23 that officials have been able to confirm as flu-related since Dec. 30.

Since the start of the influenza season, 1,121 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, according to the MDH reports for the 2012–2013 season. That number includes 401 hospitalizations for the week ending Jan. 5.

The increase has resulted in two local hospitals - Maple Grove Hospital and North Memorial Hospital - to make a few changes.  

"Maple Grove Hospital implemented expanded visitor restrictions to protect patients and minimize the spread of influenza-like illness," said Jennifer Krippner, Maple Grove Hospital Public Relations.

Krippner provided the following:

General Guidelines:

  • All visitors should use hand sanitizer or wash hands frequently.
  • Visitors, including siblings, may not visit if they have a fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose.
  • Visitors may be asked to wear a mask in the hospital.

OB/Pediatric Restrictions:

  • Special Care Nursery limits visitors to health parents only.
  • Labor & Delivery and Obstetrics are allowing only healthy siblings of newborns to visit.

Family members should discuss special requests with their nurse or physician.

Similar restrictions were placed at North Memorial Hospital.

MDH officials say the number of those hospitalized throughout the state rivals those seen during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, but that there is no evidence that the current wave of illnesses is prompted by a new virus.

"What is occurring has happened before," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said in a news release. "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.”

In addition to the 27 deaths reported so far, MDH officials say there were 28 outbreaks in long-term care facilities over the past week.

Of those hospitalized, 62 percent over older than 65 and 15 percent and younger than 25, Ehlinger said. However, the list of victims includes two otherwise healthy teens: Max Schwolert, 17, and Carly Christenson, a 14-year-old St. Louis Park girl who died Tuesday.

The 27 deaths in Minnesota so far include a total of four younger than 65, Ehlinger said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. One of those four is younger than 18, officials at the press conference said. Authorities are still evaluating other factors that might have contributed to the deaths, including other medical conditions and infections.

"Influenza is a severe illness," Ehlinger said. "People die from influenza. ... Because [the vaccination] is not 100 percent effective, it's important that more people get the vaccine" to reduce the overall pool of infected people who could pass influenza to more vulnerable populations.

Because so many of the serious cases are occurring in long-term care residents, Ehlinger stressed that it’s very important for long-term care facilities to make sure that all their staff are vaccinated against influenza to help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable residents. Also, MDH is advising facilities to follow guidelines designed to limit transmission of the virus, such as restricting visitors, particularly anyone who is ill. 

Ehlinger said those areas hardest hit with flu are implementing portions of plans developed for pandemic influenza. Hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities within each region are coordiating the use of resources such as beds, supplies and medicines.

All but a handful of U.S. states have reported a dramatic increase in flu-related illnesses.  

At this time last year, flu cases were lower in Minnesota than they are now, according to data on Google's Flu Trends. (Northfield-specific data is not available on Flu Trends, but flu cases in the Twin Cities metro are in line with the state as a whole.)

Overall in Minnesota, activity is categorized as "intense," while it was categorized as "low" at this time in 2011, according to Flu Trends.

Community members are advised to:

  1. Stay home when ill.
  2. Cover your cough
  3. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  4. Treat symptoms with over the counter medications.
  5. Seek prescribed medication treatment such as antiviral (Tamiflu) only ig you'tr sn individual at high risk of complications (older than 65, younger than 2, or with chronic diseases).

All healthy visitors are reminded to:

  1. Clean your hands after arriving and before departing;
  2. Use a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze;
  3. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following information:

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Jen Benson January 19, 2013 at 04:43 AM
Living with a dog can cause the owners to get sick and passing it on to others. A dog can not wipe, take a shower daily and wear protective undergarment and therfore spread his feces throughout the home microscopically. A dogs waste can contain: e-coli, salmonella, MRSA, hook worms, round worms, etc....same thing applies to a cat. People have been geting sick at alarming rates, only due to the increase of pet ownership. Living with a pet is unhealthy. Something to research.

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