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Flu season in full swing in Brown County

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Signs in the New Ulm Medical Center advise patients experiencing flu symptoms to wear a mask when visiting the hospital.

NEW ULM — It’s only 11 days into the new year, but Minnesota is already a month into the flu season as the virus has already spread statewide.

Public Health officials typical consider October through May to be flu season. The months of December, January and February are the peak months for a flu outbreak in Minnesota.

Brown County Public Health Direct Karen Moritz said flu cases began to spike before the holiday. This is a relatively early start for the flu season.

The flu season may be worse this year, but not necessarily. Moritz said one thing health officials know about the flu is it unpredictable.

The hospitalization numbers for flu over the last six years have varied wildly.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the 2017-2018 flu season had 6,446 hospitalizations and 440 flu deaths across Minnesota. This was the most extreme season of the last six years.

Last season 2,543 people were hospitalized in Minnesota for the flu with 75 deaths.

So far, this season has only 753 people hospitalized in the state from the flu and 16 deaths. This season is starting worse than last year but is well below the 2017-2018 flu levels.

Moritz said this flu season was unique in that younger people were being hit harder than normal. Overall 308 flu outbreaks have been reported at K-12 schools in Minnesota. If 5% of the enrolled students are absent from the flu, it is considered an outbreak. Only 15 outbreaks have been reported at Long-Term Care facilities.

The median age of those admitted for flu symptoms is 51 years. This is a lower age than normal.

Mortiz said several different strains of flu are divided between “A” and “B” strains. The A strains usually hit first in the season, but this year the B strains have been more common. The B strains are more likely to affect younger people.

Mortiz said this is not necessarily a bad thing. Young people can have a strong immune system and are better able to fight off the flu compared to senior citizens.

The statistics are based on people coming into the clinic. Not everyone who has the flu will come to the hospital, but choose to stay home and manage the symptoms.

Flu symptoms include respiratory issues, coughing, fever, and fatigue. People with the flu are recommended to isolate themselves and wash their hands to avoid spreading the virus.

“We don’t want you coming to work or going to school,” she said.

There is little the doctors can do for a person once they have the flu. It is best to remain home and battle it out with fluid and Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

A person with the flu should only come to the hospital if they are having trouble breathing or have other health problems in addition to the flu.

The New Ulm Medical Center is asking anyone with flu symptoms to wear a mask if they have flu symptoms while visiting.

Public Health is recommending people get a flu vaccination. All clinics, pharmacy and Brown County Public Health have the vaccine.

Moritz said the vaccination is not always 100% effective, but it can reduce the symptoms of flu.

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