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Minnesota seeing mildest flu season in years

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — This flu season is the mildest the Minnesota has seen in recent years, according to new data from the state Department of Health.

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The health department said 52 people have been hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza since fall, and three have died. Minnesota Public Radio News reports (http://bit.ly/yDOpho ) that at this time last year, hospitalizations were more than double that number, and there were nine deaths.

While some say the mild winter might be a factor, health officials say there's more to it.

"It's important to keep in mind that flu season in the Northern Hemisphere is the same months whether you're in Florida or whether you're in Minnesota, and so even though ours has been pretty mild, their weather has been that much better and they will still see cases of influenza," said Kris Ehresmann, director the health department's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division.

Ehresmann said the flu virus is unpredictable and health officials don't know what to expect each year. She said increased flu activity is associated with low humidity. Also, if people are spending less time congregated indoors, the virus might not spread as easily.

According to health department data, health workers have also seen fewer outbreaks of influenza-like illness in schools and nursing homes. There were two outbreaks in long-term care facilities and 16 outbreaks in schools this season, compared with 54 nursing home outbreaks and 215 school outbreaks last season.

Health officials said it's possible the flu could become more active before the season ends in April.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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