Early flu activity reported around the area
WILLMAR — It’s not too late to get vaccinated against influenza for the season, but with sporadic cases of flu beginning to show up, local health officials advise people not to procrastinate much longer.
“It’s time,” said Stacey Zondervan, assistant administrator at Family Practice Medical Center.
The Minnesota Department of Health has already confirmed some influenza cases across the state this fall. Although flu activity remains low, the state Health Department reported three hospitalizations for influenza-like illness during the week ending Oct. 19.
In all, seven Minnesotans have been hospitalized with flu since monitoring started at the beginning of October.
Three school outbreaks have been reported so far, all during the first half of October.
If health providers have learned anything from the annual influenza season, it’s to expect the unexpected.
The 2012-13 flu season peaked during the first week in January, earlier than usual, and was more severe than the year before, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers.
“Sometimes you begin and it just begins to roll,” she said. “Fingers crossed that this will be a quiet year but you never know.”
ACMC, which is a sentinel provider for the Minnesota Department of Health’s influenza surveillance program, had three laboratory-confirmed cases of type A influenza two weeks ago, DeBruycker said. “We’ve seen nothing since.”
Zondervan said Family Practice Medical Center has seen no confirmed cases of influenza yet this fall.
The flu vaccine supply remains plentiful. Established patients can obtain it from their medical provider. The vaccine is also available at many pharmacies, and is being given out at worksites and public health vaccination clinics as well.
Family Practice Medical Center has used up more than half of its vaccine “but we still have a good supply left,” Zondervan said.
ACMC, which ordered 33,000 doses for staff and patients at its 11 sites, is seeing strong demand for the flu vaccine. “We are moving through it faster than anyone expected, especially in pediatrics,” DeBruycker said. “People are getting this done.”
The one exception is a new egg-free version of the vaccine for people who are severely allergic to eggs. This vaccine supply hasn’t arrived yet. Eligible patients have been placed on a waiting list to receive it, DeBruycker said.
Annual immunization against influenza is recommended for all ages older than 6 months. It’s especially recommended for children, pregnant women, older adults and anyone with chronic health issues such as diabetes or asthma.