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Flu cases on the rise locally, statewide

Flu cases have hit widespread status statewide, and the same can be said for the Brainerd lakes area.

Area hospitals say there’s an uptick in flu cases recently — a spike that is hitting a little earlier than usual.

“We saw this early spike last year, but it typically peaks in mid-February to March,” said Kari Russell, registered nurse and infection preventionist at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center. “This is the second year to see the spike now. It’s hard to say — it might be the new norm.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the widespread flu status to Minnesota, along with much of the U.S. Only about a dozen states have a lower flu status.

According to the most recent statistics released by the Minnesota Department of Health, there have been 619 hospitalizations in the state this season so far; of that, 186 came in the most recent week.

That’s a drop from last year’s heavy flu season of 3,068 total flu hospitalizations. But it’s a jump up from the 2011-2012 flu season of 556 total hospitalizations.

Locally, Essentia Health has had 10 confirmed and hospitalized cases of influenza during this flu season. The first case came around Christmas. Last year, the hospital had 28 cases. That’s a “conservative” number since most people who showed signs of the flu were treated without being tested, Russell said.

At the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, 18 people tested positive for the flu since Jan. 1. Of those 18, four where hospitalized.

In 2013, the hospital had 50 people test positive, of which 24 were hospitalized. There were 25 people in 2012 who tested positive.

The CDC says 61.6 percent of the reported flu hospitalizations this season have been in people 18 to 64 years old.

This mid-January spike in flu cases doesn’t call for too much concern, Russell said.

“It’s just the nature of influenza,” she said. “You never know what strains or when it will hit the community. It does speak to the importance of vaccine.”

It’s still not too late to get the flu vaccine, health officials say.

The bug can start causing aches and fevers as early as October, spanning as late as May.

The CDC recommends a flu vaccine for anyone who is 6 months old or older.

An infected person can spread influenza when they cough, sneeze or just talk near others, or someone can get sick after touching something that an infected person had previously sneezed on or touched, Russell said.

It’s recommended people wash their hands often and cover their sneezes with their inner arm.

And while there’s “quite a bit of activity,” it’s not as much as last year, Russell said.

As for the rest of the flu season, that’s anyone’s guess on where numbers will go. Officials could see another spike, Russell said, or they could see it drop off.

JESSICA LARSEN, staff writer, may be reached at or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at