Flu reaches 'widespread' levels in Minnesota

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The Minnesota Department of Health released new statewide flu numbers Thursday showing Minnesota has now reached “widespread” flu activity.

“It’s been a little while coming, but we’re finally starting to see the increase in activity that we can see around the peak weeks,” said Minnesota Department of Health Senior Epidemiologist Karen Martin. “Things are picking up, and we expect things to increase in the next few weeks as well.”

The “widespread” classification means most portions of the state are seeing an increase in flu cases.

“We have a lot of different ways that we track influenza activity. Laboratory data, outbreak data, we track hospitalizations and deaths. And looking at all those surveillance activities, we can confidently say that things are really starting to pick up now and we’d expect peak activity to happen within a month or so,” Martin said.

The new flu statistics show 14 new outbreaks at schools in Minnesota.

“It is an increase. We’ve had maybe a few outbreaks before the holidays but nothing as high as 14, and I would imagine that those numbers will probably increase next week as well,” Martin said.

Next month, experts will learn more about the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine. Martin says that the strains the CDC has been tracking are similar to what is in this season’s flu shot.

“It would be really surprising if this year were as severe as last year. But saying that, I don’t want to discount the fact that every season is severe with influenza. We’ve had 218 people so far this season who have been hospitalized with influenza, and I’m sure they wouldn’t consider it mild,” Martin said.

Martin’s message to Minnesotans: get your flu shot.

“You may think it’s too late but it’s really never too late. And especially since we’re having a slightly later season than we have in recent years, there’s going to be a lot of influenza activity yet to come,” Martin said.

Though the statistics released Thursday show fewer hospitalizations than the week prior, Martin says that is likely due to a lag in data reporting. She expects those numbers to keep going up as more reports are confirmed.