Influenza activity hits peak across the state

WILLMAR -- Teens and young adults -- an age group that typically doesn't get as sick as the very young or the very old -- have been hit harder than usual this winter by influenza, local health providers say.

WILLMAR -- Teens and young adults -- an age group that typically doesn't get as sick as the very young or the very old -- have been hit harder than usual this winter by influenza, local health providers say.

Most of them didn't get a flu shot last fall, but about 10 percent were vaccinated and got sick anyway, said Jo DeBruycker of the Health Learning Center at Affiliated Community Medical Centers.

"That has kind of taken us aback a little bit. We are seeing breakthrough, and breakthrough in more volume," she said. "It's been an unusual year."

Breakthrough refers to influenza that occurs in spite of vaccination.

Influenza activity in Minnesota has been widespread this month, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.


That's been reflected by a spike in visits to local doctors' offices.

"We're seeing a whole lot of fever and coughs and aches. It's across all age groups," said Stacey Zondervan, patient services supervisor at Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar.

"It seems like we started seeing quite a bit, starting Feb. 11," she said. "We're into the second week of it now. I think we are just right in the midst of it."

On one day last weekend, staff at Affiliated's urgent care center saw more than 100 patients, DeBruycker said.

"That's a lot of people," she said.

The number of influenza-like illnesses has been slightly higher than last year, she and Zondervan said.

The virus, which usually circulates during the winter, sickens millions of Americans every year. About 36,000 people die of flu or flu-related complications each year, and thousands more are hospitalized.

Annual vaccinations can reduce the likelihood of getting flu -- and local health providers have aggressively promoted the shots, especially for the very young, the elderly and others who are at greatest risk of severe illness or complications such as pneumonia.


At Affiliated, which participates in the state Health Department's influenza surveillance program for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sampling has found less flu among preschoolers and older adults, DeBruycker said.

The highest incidence, she said, has been among the 5-to-24-year-old age group. Most were not vaccinated.

Of especial concern to health officials is the prevalence of breakthrough -- influenza in spite of vaccination -- that's being seen this winter.

As of Feb. 9, the Minnesota Department of Health was reporting that 93 percent of the flu cases confirmed at its laboratory were well matched to the flu virus strains circulating this year.

Late last week, however, the CDC said some unexpected flu strains have begun to show up nationally. As a result, the current flu vaccine, which is reformulated each year, is offering less protection.

Local health officials don't want this to discourage people from getting annual flu shots.

"The far greatest number of people with influenza are unvaccinated. That's still the most important thing people can do," DeBruycker said.

Even if the shots can't completely prevent influenza, they can often reduce the severity of flu symptoms, Zondervan said.


It's not just flu that has been making people sick. Health providers also are seeing a variety of other bugs, from streptococcal throat infections to sinusitis that in several cases has progressed into pneumonia.

Strep throat is far more common among children than adults, but a high number of recent cases at Affiliated have been in adults, DeBruycker said. "It's been an unusual year," she said.

What can people do to reduce their likelihood of getting sick?

Wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay away from public places if you don't feel well, DeBruycker and Zondervan advised.

"We all think, 'I've got to go out. I've got to do this.' But the person you expose may be a vulnerable person who may not fight this off as readily. We need to take some personal responsibility," DeBruycker said.

"You want to prevent the spread," Zondervan agreed. "You want to make sure you're not a good vector for it. It's the multi-pronged approach."

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