October 13, 2011
State health officials confirm first influenza case of season
Minnesotans urged to get vaccinated to prevent influenza
Minnesota has recorded its first case of influenza for the 2011-12 season in a 26-year-old woman from Olmsted County. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Public Health Laboratory confirmed the woman's illness was caused by the A (H3) strain of the virus, which appears to be covered by this year's vaccine, state health officials reported today.
The woman, who had no underlying health conditions and was not hospitalized, had not yet been vaccinated this season, health officials said.
While there have been reports of influenza cases around the state already this year, this announcement marks the official start of flu season in Minnesota.
"Identifying influenza in the laboratory helps us know which strains are circulating and tells us how well this year's vaccine will protect people from influenza and its complications," said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control division at MDH. "The first case also serves as a reminder that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others against influenza and the best time to get vaccinated is now."
Influenza season in Minnesota occurs from October through April. "While influenza activity usually does not peak until later, this first case tells us that influenza is beginning to circulate in our communities," Ehresmann said.
Widespread influenza activity in Minnesota usually peaks in February, but cases can occur as late as May. Flu season is off to a somewhat early start this year; the first flu case historically has been confirmed most often in late November or early December.
Influenza vaccination is now recommended for everyone six months and older unless they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. It is especially important that those at high risk for serious complications from influenza be vaccinated. These include pregnant women, seniors, young children and those with chronic medical conditions.
Children under six months of age cannot receive influenza vaccine, so household contacts and caretakers should be vaccinated to protect the very young.
For those who don't like shots, a nasal spray is available for healthy people ages 2 through 49.
There is an ample supply of vaccine available this year, Ehresmann noted.
It's important to get influenza vaccine every year, health officials said. The vaccine often changes from year to year because the strains of virus circulating around the world can change every year. Although the strains included in the vaccine this year are the same as last year, people still need to be vaccinated since the vaccine's protection doesn't last beyond a year.
More information on influenza and vaccination can be found on the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us. This site also has a listing of public flu vaccination clinics. To find the influenza vaccination clinic nearest you, go to www.mdhflu.com and click on "Find a flu shot clinic."
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician. Influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics are not effective against it.
During flu season, besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps people can take to avoid spreading or catching influenza:
- Do your best to stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating.
- Stay home from school or work if you have a respiratory infection. Avoid exposing yourself to others who are sick with flu-like illness.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
- Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
MDH Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control