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First influenza case of 2011-12 season reported in Minnesota

Minnesota has recorded its first case of influenza for the 2011-12 season in a 26-year-old woman from Olmsted County, the state Department of Health announced today.

The Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory confirmed the woman's illness was caused by the A (H3) strain of the virus, which appears to be covered by this year's flu vaccine.

The woman, who had no underlying health conditions and was not hospitalized, had not yet been vaccinated this season, state health officials said.

While there have been scattered reports of influenza cases around the state already this year, today's announcement marks the official start of flu season in Minnesota.

It's an indication that influenza is beginning to circulate, said Kristen Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease epidemiology prevention and control division at the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Identifying influenza in the laboratory helps us know which strains are circulating and tells us how well this year's vaccine will protect people from influenza and its complications," she said. "The first case also serves as a reminder that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others against influenza and the best time to get vaccinated is now."

It's an earlier start than usual to the annual influenza season. The first flu case usually isn't confirmed until late November or early December. Widespread influenza activity in Minnesota generally peaks in February, but cases can occur as late as May.

Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older unless they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. The vaccine is especially urged for those at high risk of serious complications from influenza. 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.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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