WORTHINGTON -- The flu season started earlier than usual and it's packing quite a punch, with hundreds of Minnesotans hospitalized in recent weeks for symptoms ranging from a fever to a sore throat, body aches and extreme tiredness.
Robyn Funk, lab manager at Avera Worthington Specialty Clinic, said cases of both Influenza A and Influenza B have been diagnosed in patients locally. The Influenza A is the more severe strain.
"It was right around Christmas," she said of the first diagnosed cases of the flu locally. "We had our first positives the day before Christmas and the day after."
As might be expected, Sanford Worthington Clinic saw numerous cases of the flu during the holidays.
"It started about the first part of November, but right around Christmas it was picking up -- we were getting at least one case a day," said Sanford Worthington Clinic's lead RN, Sarah Anderson. "It's staying pretty steady (now) at a couple of cases a day."
Cindy Frederickson, public health nurse with Nobles County Community Services said a spike in the number of flu cases in Minnesota began in mid-October and continued to escalate through the holidays.
"There's widespread influenza activity in Minnesota," she said. "At the end of November, early December, we started having a lot of cases."
Since the start of the influenza season in Minnesota, nearly 580 people have been hospitalized with "laboratory-confirmed cases" of influenza, Frederickson said. From Dec. 23-29, there were 226 hospitalizations related to the flu.
Prior to the winter break for Minnesota schoolchildren, there had been 133 reported outbreaks of influenza in schools. An outbreak is reported when at least 5 percent of the school's total enrollment, or three or more students from the same classroom, are absent from class because of the flu. Locally, the number of students afflicted with the flu has remained quite low.
"We have six out with the influenza," said Wendy Donkersloot, District 518 nurse. Those cases involved some children from the same family, and all of the cases involved students from Prairie Elementary. There have been no known cases of influenza in either the middle or high school, she added.
"We're hoping that the vaccination clinic we did earlier is going to warrant against us being afflicted with (the influenza)," Donkersloot added.
A good match
Frederickson said the flu vaccine available this year has proved to be a good match for the virus that has afflicted hundreds of Minnesotans.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has found that 91 percent of cases are matching with the strains in this season's vaccine," she explained. "That suggests we have a very good match with what's circulating in the community."
More than half the country is reporting widespread cases of the flu -- including the neighboring states of Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota. As of Thursday, South Dakota and Nebraska's cases were still more regional in nature.
"In Minnesota and nationally, the influenza virus circulating is H3N2, a type of influenza that can result in more serious disease," Frederickson said.
Typical symptoms of the flu include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, stuffed-up nose and body aches.
"It can progress into pneumonia and people can become very ill with complications," Frederickson said.
By Friday, four Minnesota deaths were attributed to the influenza -- the last two occurring in the week between Christmas and New Year's.
Flu vaccine still available
With cases of the influenza reaching a new peak, Frederickson said it isn't too late for people to get a flu shot if they haven't done so yet this season.
"The sooner the better," she said. "There is vaccine available, and we encourage anyone six months and older to get a vaccination."
The flu vaccine does take a couple of weeks to build up antibodies in a person's system, but Frederickson said it's important for caregivers of infants or people with health problems and the elderly to get vaccinated.
If a person becomes inflicted with influenza, Frederickson said the most important thing to do is stay home to avoid spreading it to others. Other common courtesies include covering your cough and sneezing and washing your hands often or use hand sanitizer. She also encourages people to eat healthy and get plenty of sleep.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.