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Health care officials see uptick in flu cases in Willmar area

WILLMAR -- Although influenza in Minnesota has yet to become widespread, cases have been on the uptick in the past couple of weeks.

Affiliated Community Medical Centers, which does flu surveillance for the Minnesota Department of Health, had 19 confirmed cases of influenza during the third week in January, said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Health Learning Center at ACMC.

Most were type A influenza and occurred among patients both old and young, she said.

"It's been all ages but mostly younger."

The majority of cases were in people who hadn't gotten a flu shot, DeBruycker said.

Flu activity appeared to drop off in the last week of January, she said. A couple of cases that showed up this past week were in individuals who were vaccinated against influenza.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported that influenza activity became regional across the state during the week of Jan. 16-22, the most recent for which statistics were available.

Four schools in east central and southern Minnesota and one metro-area nursing home reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness that week.

One child at Roosevelt School in Willmar had influenza this past week that was confirmed with laboratory testing, said Nancy VanHauen, school nurse.

Overall, however, "we haven't seen a lot of absenteeism," she said. "We've had the usual: pinkeye and strep and croup and viruses."

DeBruycker agreed that strep throat infections appear to be making the rounds.

Although strep is usually associated with children, adults can get it too --and it often spreads within households, she said. "Strep likes all ages, we've learned."

Through its sentinel-site testing for the Minnesota Department of Health, ACMC also has been seeing corona virus, a respiratory virus similar to influenza, she said.

Frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when ill can reduce the spread of flu and other seasonal viruses, health officials advise.

Cold snowy weather that has kept many people indoors in crowded conditions has probably contributed to the recent spread of influenza, strep and norovirus, DeBruycker said.

It's the peak season for many of these viruses, said VanHauen. "Usually this is the time of year -- the end of January, the beginning of February. I hope everyone stays healthy."

Nationally, influenza also increased during the third week in January. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 states had widespread flu activity and 16 states, including Minnesota, had regional activity.

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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