By Kristen Miller
The flu season has come at full speed and local health officials are encouraging those who haven’t been vaccinated to do so in order to prevent the spread.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) released data Thursday that shows the state is experiencing a very severe flu season, one that rivals the 2009 pandemic.
It was reported for the week ending Jan. 5 alone, there were 401 hospitalizations, similar to a peak week in the 2009-10 pandemic. There have been 27 deaths due to influenza, 25 of them were people 65 years or older.
Annette Bohnsack, the new school nurse at Dassel-Cokato, said that what the school is seeing is equivalent to the state-wide norm and that it’s still manageable.
“In the last month, we’ve noticed a lot more colds and flu and have experienced more absenteeism,” Bohnsack said, noting that it’s been fairly consistent district-wide.
The numbers have not reached the level to which she would need to report to the state, however.
It’s mandatory for school districts to report to the MDH when absenteeism due to the flu reaches or exceeds 5 percent of the school population.
What she is seeing “is a little bit of everything,” including Influenza A and the Noro Virus, or the typical stomach flu.
Bohnsack explained that there are two to three different types of influenza that are circulating, including A and B strains.
Some years, there will be more of one particular strain.
Clinically, there isn’t a big difference, Bohnsack said, but added that this year’s flu vaccine is very effective for the type of flu being diagnosed.
Though the flu shot is not 100 percent effective for everyone, “It’s really the best way to prevent it,” Bohnsack said.
Any walk-in clinic or local health provider is able to administer flu shots. She also recommends the Wellness on Wheels (WOW) Van, which is scheduled to be at the Cokato Marketplace Thursday, Jan. 24.
As of Thursday, Wright County Public Health (WCPH) reported there was a good supply of influenza vaccines available, including FluMist.
WCPH explained that influenza is not just a cold or “stomach flu,” and that people can become quite sick and even die.
Symptoms of the contagious respiratory illness tend to come on suddenly and include sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Most people can fight the flu at home with rest and fluids, but people who become severely ill should see a physician.
Hospitals impose visitation restrictions
Meeker Memorial Hospital and Hutchinson Health Hospital have implemented visitor restrictions that are in effect until further notice.
The restrictions at Meeker Memorial include the following:
• It is recommended that no children visit hospital patients.
• No one under 18 is allowed in the Birth Center, with the exception of siblings.
• A mask is required for anyone with symptoms like scratch throat, fever, cough, body aches, etc.
• All visitors must wash hands or use hand sanitizer prior to visitation. A kiosk is located in the center of the lobby and in the hall of the third floor.
The restrictions at Hutchinson Health Hospital include:
• Visitors are limited to immediate family members.
• Only two visitors per patient at a time.
• No one who is ill with flu-like symptoms is permitted to visit.
The hospitals also are encouraging people to get vaccinated, wash hands regularly, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when sick.
Lori Rice, coordinator of education and marketing at Meeker Memorial, said that although vaccinations are not 100 percent effective (typically 60 percent effective in most people), it is the best tool for preventing influenza and its complications.