Flu now 'widespread' in Minnesota as 3 more people die, says report

A new report from the Minnesota Department of Health shows the flu is now “widespread” in the state and showed a total of six influenza-related deaths this season, up three from last week.

Overall, 262 people have been hospitalized with the flu this year, which has been upgraded to “widespread” status, this highest alert level the state issues.

In addition, MDH has reported 60 new school outbreaks, with a total of 123 so far this season.

Earlier this week, Shakopee Public Schools reported an outbreak that caused 400 student absences, but the administration now says the situation is improving.

West Middle School, for instance, reported 29 percent of its student body was absent due to the flu. Thursday, that number was down to just under 17 percent. The other school impacted was Sun Path Elementary school, which reported nearly 20 percent of its student body absent Tuesday, which has decreased to 15 percent Thursday.

District Superintendent Mike Redmond said the custodial team is wiping down common areas like door handles, drinking fountains and other hard surfaces. Staff members are also helping in their individual classrooms.

M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital and M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center both announced enhanced visitor restrictions Thursday due to widespread flu across the state. The hospital's restriction prohibits children under the age of 5 to visit the two hospitals.

"We have seen this before in the 90s and in past flu season but usually we would see influenza A predominate early in the season," explained the Department of Health's Supervisor of Immunization Program Jennifer Heath.

Health experts say the B strain usually pops up in the spring time so there is concern another dangerous strain of flu is lurking around the corner.

Among the 262 hospitalizations so far this flu season, the bulk of those admitted are children.

Dr. David Hilden of Hennepin Healthcare says with the holidays around the corner one of the biggest ways to prevent the spread of flu is to wash your hands and get the flu shot -- it's not too late.

"Get your children vaccinated," said Dr. Hilden. "It’s not perfect but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the pretty good.”