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Influenza cases rise in Willmar, Minn., region, mirroring state trend

WILLMAR — The Willmar area has seen a rise in the number of influenza cases reported in the last week, mirroring conditions in the rest of the state.

“We most certainly have seen a significant uptick in the last week,” said Jo DeBruycker, manager of the Affiliated Community Medical Centers Health Learning Center in Willmar. “We are like the rest of Minnesota in that it’s really picked up steam.”

In Minnesota, 123 people were hospitalized with influenza between Dec. 16 and 22, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Since the start of the season, two influenza-related deaths have been confirmed in Minnesota. One was an elderly woman in her 90s.

Between Dec. 19 and 26, ACMC tested 63 positive cases of influenza, even with its closure over Christmas. The average age of people testing positive is around 30, DeBruycker said, although she’s seen the strain in children as young as 7 months and people as old as 85.

Generally, the peak season for influenza has been late January and early February. It’s possible that holiday travel and more crowded conditions over the holiday season contributed to the earlier rise in influenza cases, DeBruycker said, though she thinks it’s more likely to be the way this particular virus expresses itself.

Even with the recent influx in cases, it’s still too early to tell whether the flu season will be more extreme this year than in the past, said Stacey Zondervan, assistant administrator of patient services at Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar.

“We’re right at the beginning of the flu season,” Zondervan said. “At this point, it’s difficult to tell if it’s going to be a bad flu year or more mild.”

At ACMC, most of the people who have tested positive for influenza had not yet received the flu vaccine, DeBruycker said.

“We’ve seen about 10 percent of people who are vaccinated, but 90 percent are unvaccinated, which is a good reminder that if you aren’t vaccinated, just go do that,” she said.

The clinic still has vaccine available, including “a little bit” of FluMist that expires Monday, DeBruycker said.

“We also have enough injectables that we certainly could provide routine vaccines for people,” she said. “We have standing orders and will vaccinate anybody who hasn’t been vaccinated. We do expect that within the next few weeks, though, it will be gone.”

Other medical clinics, including Family Practice, offer the vaccine to established patients.

“We have a couple hundred doses left,” Zondervan said. “We’re sitting with the amount we usually have at this time of year. We do anticipate that we will run out.”

Locally, the vaccine is also available at several retail pharmacies. A full list of locations can be found here.

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months, and particularly for people at a higher risk for the flu: young children, elderly adults, pregnant women and people with long-term or chronic health conditions.

People experiencing flu-like symptoms should also make a point to avoid contact with these higher-risk groups, DeBruycker said.

“If you’re feeling under the weather, now is not the time to see grandma in the nursing home. Wait and give her a call instead,” she said.

Both Zondervan and DeBruycker also advise that people with flu symptoms cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands, get plenty of rest and stay home from work or school to avoid exposing others to the virus.

If living with someone who has the flu, DeBruycker suggests cleaning all surfaces that people touch regularly and to consider designating a “sick room” with tissues, a wastebasket, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, a pitcher of water or ice and a humidifier.

“Those are little steps that can make a big difference in not transmitting it to other people,” she said.

— Tribune reporter Anne Polta contributed to this report.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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