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State health officials report influenza cluster in metro-area long-term care facility

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Health has identified a cluster of influenza cases in a long-term care facility in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.

State health officials said today that it's unclear whether this cluster represents sporadic influenza activity that can occur outside the usual influenza season or whether it signals the start of the influenza season in Minnesota.

They said, however, that it's a reminder that flu season is just around the corner and it's not too early to get vaccinated.

Three residents of the facility tested positive for influenza A by rapid test and were later confirmed by the state Health Department's Public Health Laboratory as having influenza A/H3, health officials said.

The A/H3 strain of influenza has been circulating at low levels in the United States over the summer. It has been detected in sporadic outbreaks, mostly in schools, child care settings or long-term care facilities, but has not been circulating among the general public at detectable levels, health officials said.

In Minnesota, surveillance for hospitalized cases, outpatient visits for influenza-like illness and laboratory surveillance have not detected any significant increase in influenza activity at this time. Typically, influenza season in Minnesota runs from Oct. 1 through April.

"While we don't know yet whether this outbreak represents the start of the flu season in Minnesota, it does serve as a good reminder that influenza can occur at any time of year, and the flu season is fast approaching," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at the Minnesota Department of Health. "So it makes sense to plan now for getting vaccinated for flu at the next opportunity."

Vaccine given now will provide protection through the full influenza season.