Oct. 12, 2012
State health officials confirm first influenza cases of season
Minnesotans urged to get vaccinated to prevent influenza
Minnesota has recorded its first two cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza for the 2012-13 season since official monitoring for influenza began Oct. 1, state health officials reported today.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Public Health Laboratory confirmed that a 25-year-old Olmsted County woman’s illness was caused by the A (H3) strain of the virus and a 12-year old Hennepin County child’s illness was caused by a B strain of the virus. The A (H3) strain was not swine-related. Neither of the cases was hospitalized.
While monitoring for serious, hospitalized cases of influenza occurs year-round and Minnesota has seen some sporadic cases throughout the summer, these cases mark the official start of full-scale monitoring for influenza in the state. Besides laboratory-based surveillance for influenza, MDH also uses reports of influenza-like illness from clinics, and reports of influenza-like illness outbreaks in schools and long-term care facilities to monitor the level of influenza activity in the state.
“Identifying influenza in the laboratory helps us know which strains are circulating and if they match the projections for this year’s vaccine,” said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control division at MDH. “This can help us understand the patterns of influenza disease and how to better protect people. Influenza, for some people, can be a serious, even life-threatening illness. The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated,” Ehresmann said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates of flu-associated deaths in the U.S, have ranged from a low of about 3,000 a year to a high of about 49,000 per year over the 30 years from 1976 to 2006. In Minnesota, hundreds of people, young and old, are hospitalized each year due to complications of influenza. It is one of the leading causes of death for people 65 and older, but children under 5 have high rates of hospitalization also.
Influenza season in Minnesota typically occurs from October through April, but cases can occur sporadically throughout the year, including summer. “While widespread influenza activity usually does not peak until February, these first cases tell us that influenza is beginning to circulate in our communities,” Ehresmann said.
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 also a new product that uses a very small needle to inject the vaccine into the skin layers only.
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. The vaccine strains have been updated this year to match the strains that officials and scientists expect to circulate.
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.
More information on influenza and vaccination can be found on the MDH website at www.health.state.mn.us.
Infectious Disease Epidemiology Prevention and Control