Flu season has yet to peak in Minnesota

If you've made it through the winter months so far flu-free, the Minnesota Department of Health says don't let your guard down.

“Influenza is very hard to predict, anyone who tries to predict it, don’t trust them,” said Dr. Frank Rhame of Allina Health.

While cases have been down this year compared to last year, Dr. Rhame says the flu may just be getting started.

“It’s gradually ramped up, but it’s not peaked yet – it may be just peaking, but you never can tell what influenza will do,” said Dr. Rhame.

He says he’s seen plenty of sick patients come through his office recently.

“People have what starts as a cold, but then they have 103 fever and they feel like a ton of bricks hit them and that’s influenza,” he said.

That reflects in new numbers out Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Health. Their weekly flu report shows there is still widespread activity in all parts of the state. Hospitalizations are just over 1,400 people and so far 39 people have died – eight this week alone.

“It’s still pretty bad out there,” said Karen Martin, a senior epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Martin says things are definitely better than last year’s historic flu season, but they take all cases seriously.

“We are not seeing the same number of hospitalizations or same number of deaths, but even a milder influenza season is still severe,” said Martin.

Health experts point out Minnesota most likely hasn’t seen the peak yet, so those numbers could change. There’s something else showing up on their radar they’re keeping a close watch on: a more serious strain of the flu.

“Up until this point in Minnesota, the dominate strain we’ve seen has been AH1, but we’ve started to see an increase in AH3, which in previous seasons has been associated with a higher number of hospitalizations and deaths,” said Martin.

Doctors say the best defense against the flu is the flu shot, which you can still get this late in the season.