Flu season not quite over yet, experts say

New data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows the influenza outbreak remains regional in Minnesota, extending one of the worst flu seasons in Minnesota history.

More than 5,000 people have been hospitalized this season, including more than 150 people this week alone--about half as many as the week before. 

Still, the MDH says Minnesotans are not out of the clear yet. Flu season typically lasts through mid-April, though this year has already been one to remember.

“It kind of kept on and kept on like the Energizer bunny,” said Kris Ehresmann, Director of Infectious Disease Prevention and Control for the Minnesota Department of Health. “We saw activity fairly early, and then even when we thought we were getting to a peak, that peak has sustained itself for many, many weeks."

The CDC, Department of Health, parents, kids and employees are all facing the real pain of the flu, though no one person knows the full brunt of this year's virus like a doctor who see it every day. 

“A typical crazy day might be a full waiting room and all the rooms full,” said Dr. Steve Evelsizer with The Urgency Room in Eagan. “Clinics are overwhelmed with flu patients as well, and so we're seeing a lot of patients that might normally go to their primary care physicians coming to our clinics."

Patients are coming in with high fevers, body aches and a cough. Most of them leave diagnosed with the flu. 

“Certainly public health staff, it takes its toll," Ehresmann said. "But for the healthcare system [as a whole], it is huge."

The number of flu-related hospitalizations in Minnesota this season is already higher than the last five flu seasons, with outbreaks at 600 schools in the state and five children who have passed away from the illness already. Dozens more across the country have died.

“When we look at influenza, we're never quite sure what to expect in terms of how the season will play out," Ehresmann said. "But definitely, this has been a really serious season.”

At one point, almost every state saw widespread flu outbreaks at the same time.  

“So to have all the states, having all their regions with influenza activity did mean that the country was experiencing the flu outbreak simultaneously," Ehresmann said. "That was very unusual.”

This weekend, Fox 9 dives deeper into the far-reaching impact of this year’s severe flu season. 

Join us for a Community Connection special at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on Fox 9.