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Flu activity on wane but virus ‘still out there’

WILLMAR — Influenza activity is waning, but Minnesotans are still being hospitalized with flu and two school districts reported flu outbreaks during the last week of March.

“It is still out there,” Karen Martin, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, said Friday.

Although influenza usually peaks during the winter, it’s common to see it linger well into spring, Martin said. “We know that cases go on through May and sometimes even June and occur sporadically through the summer.”

According to the state Health Department’s most recent update, 22 people were hospitalized for influenza during the week that ended March 29, down from 31 the week before.

Activity peaked at the beginning of January and is now categorized as sporadic statewide.

The current flu season has been less severe than 2012-13, which saw 231 influenza-related deaths and more than 3,000 hospitalizations in Minnesota.

In comparison, about 1,400 people so far have been hospitalized with flu.

Still, “it wasn’t necessarily a mild season,” Martin said. Many of those hospitalized were younger, she noted.

For the first time since 2009, when the H1N1 flu strain made its appearance, H1N1 was the dominant strain that circulated this season. Older adults, who typically are hit harder by influenza, seem to be less vulnerable to the H1N1 strain, Martin said. “It does tend to disproportionately affect the younger age groups.”

A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the 2013-14 flu vaccine formula was a good match for the strains that have been circulating this season.

Health officials continue to recommend annual flu vaccination as one of the best measures for prevention.

“It’s not 100 percent but it certainly provides protection,” Martin said. “Even this late in the season, we still recommend it.”

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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