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Flu season in full swing in Minnesota

Facing an earlier-than-usual spike in influenza cases, health officials are urging the infected to stay home and skip holiday gatherings. "If you're sick or someone in your family is sick, I know it's hard to miss out on those festivities," said ...

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103 people have tested positive for the flu in the health system's emergency room and clinics in Crow Wing County. By Dec. 23, 2014, the number of those with positive results was just 17. These figures do not account for those presenting typical symptoms who did not require additional testing. Illustration.

Facing an earlier-than-usual spike in influenza cases, health officials are urging the infected to stay home and skip holiday gatherings.

"If you're sick or someone in your family is sick, I know it's hard to miss out on those festivities," said Miranda Anderson, marketing and foundation director at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center. "Staying home is probably the best gift you can give to someone."

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports the state is currently facing an especially bad flu season, one of the worst in recent memory according to a news release. Since October, 359 people across the state have been hospitalized with positive influenza tests.

Kari Russell, infection preventionist for Essentia, said seven of those hospitalizations have been at St. Joseph's. No one was admitted to the hospital for the flu by this date last year; the first hospitalization was not reported until Christmas Day.

"It seems like it's just shifted by a couple of weeks earlier than we were last year," Russell said.

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So far, 103 people have tested positive for the flu in the health system's emergency room and clinics in Crow Wing County. By Dec. 23, 2014, the number of those with positive results was just 17. These figures do not account for those presenting typical symptoms who did not require additional testing.

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Preventing the spread of influenza

  • Get your flu shot. It's not too late to be vaccinated. The flu season in Minnesota typically lasts through April.
  • Stay home. Avoid exposing others to the illness.
  • Cover your cough. Cover the nose and mouth with a tissue whenever coughing or sneezing. If a tissue is not available, cough into a sleeve.
  • Keep clean. Clean surfaces frequently touched, including doorknobs, faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
  • Wash your hands. Wash hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Rest and exercise. Get plenty of rest, physical activity and eat healthy foods.

Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Health.

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Accurate predictions of flu seasons are difficult to come by, Russell said, because many variables can affect the intensity and duration of peak infection.

"It's so hard to tell. You just never know until you're in it whether it's going to be a rough flu season or kind of an easy flu season," she said.

This early spike in flu cases could be the only one this year or one of multiple waves of infection.

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"It depends on the strains circulating," Russell said. "Some just cause more severe illness than others."

Although the timing of the flu outbreaks is bad for those planning to travel and visit family, it might actually be a good thing for tampering the spread of flu. Anderson said the holiday break gives families the opportunity to quarantine themselves without children missing school.

"It might help matters if we don't have all those kids gathered in close proximity," Russell added.

The best way to prevent the flu is by receiving the vaccination. Although it does not protect against every possible strain of the flu, it decreases the likelihood of contracting the illness.

"It's the best protection that we have," Russell said. "It protects not only you but those around you who are maybe more susceptible to flu or who would suffer greater consequences from getting the flu."

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: ESSENTIA HEALTH
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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