Minnesotans Urged To Get Vaccinated Against Influenza

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Minnesota has recorded its first culture-confirmed case of influenza for the 2008-09 season in a 39-year-old man from Chisago County. The man's illness was caused by the A (H1) strain of the virus, the Minnesota Department of Health reported today. The man's virus is a good match for this year's vaccine, health officials said. The specimen was submitted by Fairview Lakes Medical Center.

While there have been reports of influenza cases around the state already this year, this announcement marks the official start of flu season in Minnesota. It's also a reminder that it's time to seek influenza vaccination, if you haven't already.

"Identifying influenza in the laboratory helps us know which strains are circulating and tells us how well this year's vaccine will protect people from influenza and its complications," said Kristen Ehresmann, section chief for immunizations at MDH. "Those who are vaccinated against influenza in December and even into January should be fully protected when the season peaks."

State health officials said there is an added incentive to get vaccinated this year. Preliminary information from the CDC indicates that the currently circulating strain of influenza A (H1) is not susceptible to oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), the antiviral medication most commonly used to treat and prevent influenza.

"We will have fewer tools to treat influenza this year, so it's that much more important to prevent influenza in the first place by getting vaccinated now," Ehresmann said.

Widespread influenza activity in Minnesota usually peaks in February, but cases can occur as late as May. Flu season is off to a typical start this year; the first flu case historically has been confirmed most often in late November or early December.

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Influenza vaccination is important for anyone who wants to avoid influenza – regardless of age or health status. A flu vaccine also may help avoid giving influenza to others during the upcoming holiday season.

This year, recommendations have expanded to include all children from six months through 18 years of age. The expansion is based on evidence that influenza vaccination is effective and safe for school-age children and that influenza illness significantly impacts school absenteeism, increases antibiotic use and leads to more medical care visits and parental work loss. Not only are children at risk for influenza when unvaccinated, but infected children often transmit influenza to other vulnerable people such as grandparents and other caregivers age 50 and over.

Health officials strongly recommend that people who are most at risk for complications from influenza get an annual flu shot. Those most at risk include:

* People 50 years of age and older
* People with chronic illnesses
* Children six months to 18 years of age
* Residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities

Children under six months of age cannot receive flu vaccine, so household contacts should be vaccinated to protect the very young.

In addition, flu shots are strongly recommended for health-care workers in order to help protect those most susceptible to influenza.

Ehresmann noted that not only should people who are in the high risk groups get immunized, but also people who have regular contact with them should strongly consider being immunized. "People in these groups can end up in the hospital – or even die – if they get the flu."

Each year in the United States, an average of 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza. In Minnesota, hundreds of people, young and old, are hospitalized each year due to complications of influenza. It is one of the leading causes of death for people 65 and older, but children under five have high rates of hospitalization also.

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