23 flu-related deaths in Minnesota first week of January; 33 all last flu season

Minnesota was hit harder by the flu last week than it has been in at least three years.
Minnesota was hit harder by the flu last week than it has been in at least three years.

In a Minnesota Department of Public Health statement regarding what's shaping up to be the state's most severe flu season in years, Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said yesterday that "We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state."

SEE ALSO: Carly Christenson, 14, died of influenza despite receiving flu shot

The MDH says there were 27 flu-related deaths -- including 14-year-old St. Louis Park student Carly Christenson -- during the first week of January alone. By comparison, during a "relatively mild" flu season last year, 33 people died the entire season, the Star Tribune reports.

Since the current flu season began in September, a total of 27 people have died from flu-related causes, and 1,121 have been hospitalized, including 401 last week. Last week's number of 23 dead and 401 hospitalized are "similar to a peak week in the 2009-10 flu pandemic," the MDH statement says.

For the 2009-10 season as a whole, 67 Minnesotans died from flu-related causes, the Strib reports.

In the MDH statement, Dr. Ehlinger says: "It's important to keep this year in perspective: What is occurring has happened before. This is what influenza looks like, this is what it can do."

More from the statement:

The demographics of Minnesota's hospitalized cases and deaths are what we expect with seasonal influenza, said Commissioner Ehlinger. "Of the 1,121 hospitalized persons, 62 percent of the cases are over 65 years of age and 15 percent are under 25 years of age. This is in contrast to the 2009 pandemic when 12 percent of hospitalizations were in individuals 65 and older and 61 percent were in those under age 25 years. Twenty-three of the 27 influenza deaths this year are in people 65 years and older. Because so many of the serious cases are occurring in long-term care residents, Ehlinger stressed that it's very important for long-term care facilities to make sure that all their staff are vaccinated against influenza to help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable residents. Also, MDH has advised facilities to follow CDC guidelines to limit transmission of the virus, such as restricting visitors, particularly anyone who is ill...

It's important for all Minnesota residents to do what they can to protect themselves from influenza and limit the spread of the disease. If you haven't yet been vaccinated, get vaccinated for influenza. It's not too late. 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.

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