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Flu Activity In Minnesota Raised To Widespread

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health are tracking what appears to be a significant increase in influenza-like illness across the state.

Based on reports of increased influenza-like illness in schools and at sentinel reporting sites, flu activity in Minnesota is now classified as "widespread," based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria.

"Widespread" is the highest classification in CDC's flu reporting system. It means that cases of influenza have been reported in at least half of the state's regions.

Over 30 schools in the state have now reported that they have significant influenza-like illness occurring. Minnesota schools have been asked to notify MDH whenever they experience absentee rates from flu-like illness that exceed five percent of total enrollment – or whenever three or more elementary school children in the same classroom are absent with flu symptoms.

MDH is also getting reports of increased flu-like illness activity from its system of sentinel clinics, which report increases in apparent flu activity to MDH.

Although not all of the influenza-like illness currently being reported is likely to be novel H1N1 flu, officials believe the new strain of flu that first appeared last spring is likely playing a significant role in the upsurge.

"Novel H1N1 has continued to cause illness in Minnesota all through the summer, and we have been anticipating a possible second wave of this illness. We strongly suspect that may be starting to happen now," said Dr. Sanne Magnan, Minnesota Commissioner of Health.

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To date, 272 laboratory-confirmed cases of novel H1N1 have been confirmed in Minnesota. However, MDH has been testing only in cases where the patient died or required hospitalization.

Dr. Magnan stressed the importance of simple, "low-tech" prevention measures in protecting yourself against the flu.

"The first shipments of novel H1N1 vaccine won't arrive for a number of weeks," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota State Epidemiologist. "Right now, our first line of defense is the basic personal protection measures we have been emphasizing since last spring."

Those measures include covering your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or a tissue, frequent hand washing, and staying home if you're sick with flu-like illness. For most people, that means staying home from work or school and avoiding other locations where you could expose others to the flu – until at least 24 hours after your fever resolves without the aid of medications like acetaminophen or ibuprophen.

Health officials are also urging people to contact their health care provider about getting vaccinated against regular, seasonal flu, which is also likely to be around this fall. Shipments of the seasonal vaccine have already been arriving in Minnesota.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. In some cases, symptoms of novel H1N1 can also include vomiting and diarrhea in addition to respiratory symptoms.

In most cases, people can recover from the flu at home without the need for visiting a health care provider. Individuals who are at high risk of severe illness or complications from influenza should talk to their doctor and plan for what to do if they are exposed to influenza or develop influenza symptoms. Those who may be at risk include children under five years of age, especially if they're under the age of two; people 65 years of age or older; pregnant women; and people with underlying medical conditions.

Antiviral medications are frequently used to treat high-risk patients, but they need to be given promptly to be most effective. People who do develop severe symptoms from influenza should seek medical care promptly. It is also important to ensure that sick people have enough fluids to drink. Aspirin or medications containing aspirin should not be given to anyone 18 and under with influenza like symptoms.