Influenza now widespread in Minnesota, MDH says

Influenza is now widespread in Minnesota, according to the latest report from the Minnesota Department of Health.

There were 18 new outbreaks of the flu in schools last week, a jump from only nine new outbreaks the week before. 134 people were also hospitalized for the flu last week, compared to 88 the week before.

Regardless, flu cases are down dramatically when compared to the last three years. At this time last year, there were 1,541 hospitalizations. In 2014, there were 4,138 cases. This year, there have been 508 hospitalizations.

"If this was the end of the season, it would be a quiet season if we only had 508 cases, but we've got several months left and a lot of data to come in," said Kris Ehresmann, the Director of Infectious Disease at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Infectious disease specialist at Abbott Northwestern Dr. Frank Rhame said the late surge in cases could mean one of two things--the influenza season got a late start, or the vaccine worked and it will be a mild year.

"Influenza is so variable and you really have late years and early years," said Dr. Rhame. "I think it's going to be a benign year, but maybe that's because I'm an optimist."

As flu season continues in Minnesota, hospitals and clinics are ramping up visitor restrictions to protect patients and staff. Last week, Allina Health announced it is restricting visitors at all its hospitals and clinics and is asking children under the age of five and anyone who is sick not to visit patients at this time.

No deaths from the flu have been reported yet this year.