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UPDATE: Flu Rates Skyrocket in Minnesota, Remain 'Typical' in Stillwater

More than 1,100 hospitalized; MN Department of Health urges precautions.

State health officials reported today that 23 people died—and more than 400 people were hospitalized with flu symptoms in Minnesota—during the first week of January (Dec. 30-Jan. 5).

The new data released by the Minnesota Department of Health shows that the state is experiencing a very severe flu season, with significant numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“During this cold and flu season we want to remind you of the criteria for keeping your children home for illness," a newsletter from Marine Elementary School reads. “If your child has any of the following symptoms, please keep them home: frequent coughing and/or runny nose with green or yellow drainage, diarrhea or vomiting within the last 24 hours or a fever of 100 degrees or greater within the last 24 hours. 

Also, children with a confirmed diagnosis of strep throat may not return to school until 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotic treatment is given.”

Stillwater Area Schools

Stillwater area schools did see an outbreak before winter break, based on the Minnesota Department of Health's statistics of 5 percent of a specific school population being out with flu-like symptoms, Carissa Keister, a school district spokesperson said.

But since then the numbers have come down slightly, she said, meaning there are fewer cases now than there were before break.

"When we look at the numbers it's not that different from last year," Keister said. "The media is kind of telling us it's a horrible flu season, but according to our attendence numbers, we're really seeing things look the way they usually do this time of year. It's pretty typical for flu season."

The flu may be hitting earlier, she said, but the numbers are not that skewed.

Statewide

To date, Minnesota hospitals have reported 1,121 hospitalizations due to influenza-like illness, state health officials announced. For the week ending Jan. 5 alone, there were 401 hospitalizations. State officials have confirmed a total so far of 27 deaths due to influenza or influenza-related complications.

“What is occurring has happened before. This is what influenza looks like, this is what it can do,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

“That’s why we stress every year the importance of prevention measures, such as getting a flu shot, covering your cough, washing your hands and staying home if you are ill. We never know at the beginning of a flu season what it’s going to look like.”

Education

The Stillwater Area School District is doing a lot of education for students, staff and families  to remind kids about proper hand-washing techniques and keeping their hands away from their faces, Keister said.

Teachers are also being "more vigilant" keeping door handles clean and wiping down desks and other surfaces in an attempt to keep germs from spreading, Keister said.

"We're really encouraging kids and staff to stay home if they are sick," she said. "We'll do our best to keep kids caught up if they are out, but we really don't want kids in our schools if they are sick."

Vaccine

You can still protect yourself from influenza and limit the spread of the disease.

State health officials say it’s not too late: “If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, get vaccinated for influenza.”

If you're considering getting a flu shot, here are some places in the Stillwater area that offer the vaccine:

During flu season, besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps people can take to avoid spreading or catching influenza:

  • Stay home when ill.
  • Cover your cough
  • Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • Treat symptoms with over the counter medications. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following information about the flu vaccine:

Symptoms

The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill or those at risk for severe disease with influenza, who have influenza-like symptoms contact their healthcare provider promptly.

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