St. Paul, Minn. (September 14, 2010) – The Minnesota Department of Health has identified a cluster of influenza cases in a long-term care facility in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area. While it is unclear whether this cluster of cases represents sporadic influenza activity that can occur outside the usual influenza season or the start of the influenza season in Minnesota, health officials said, it does serve as a reminder that flu season is just around the corner and it’s not too early to get vaccinated.
Three residents of the facility tested positive for influenza A by rapid test and were later confirmed as having influenza A/H3 by the MDH Public Health Laboratory.
The A/H3 strain of influenza has been circulating at low levels in the United States over the summer. It has been detected in sporadic outbreaks, mostly in schools, child care settings or long-term care facilities, but has not been circulating among the general public at detectable levels, health officials said.
In Minnesota, surveillance for hospitalized cases, out-patients visits for influenza-like illness and laboratory surveillance have not detected any significant increase in influenza activity at this time. Typically, influenza season in Minnesota runs from Oct. 1 through April.
“While we don’t know yet whether this outbreak represents the start of the flu season in Minnesota, it does serve as a good reminder that influenza can occur at any time of year, and the flu season is fast approaching,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of the infectious disease division at MDH. “So it makes sense to plan now for getting vaccinated for flu at the next opportunity.”
It’s not too early to get vaccinated for influenza, Ehresmann said, contrary to what many may believe. Vaccine given now will provide protection through the full influenza season. MDH has been encouraging health care providers to begin vaccinating patients as soon as they receive vaccine. Many providers have already received limited quantities of vaccine and many more doses are expected in the next few weeks, with the peak to come in October.
It’s important to get a flu shot every year, health officials said. The influenza vaccine often changes from year to year because the strains of virus circulating around the world change every year. For example, the H3 strain that is in this year’s vaccine is not the same H3 strain that was in the 2009-10 vaccine. So even if you received an H1N1 and a seasonal flu shot last year, you should get a seasonal flu shot this year.
For those who don’t like shots, a nasal spray is available for healthy people ages 2 through 49.
Besides traditional medical clinics, influenza vaccinations are offered through many pharmacies, at public clinics in various venues, at many local health departments and through some school-located clinics. In addition, many larger employers in Minnesota offer flu shots to their employees.
To find the flu clinic location nearest you, go to the MDH influenza website at www.mdhflu.com.
This year for the first time, health officials are recommending that everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated for influenza – unless they cannot receive one for medical reasons.
Still of special concern are those at high risk for serious complications from influenza. These include pregnant women, seniors, young children and those with asthma, diabetes or other chronic conditions.
Children under six months of age cannot receive flu vaccine, so household contacts should be vaccinated to protect the very young. In addition, flu shots are strongly recommended for health care workers in order to help protect those most susceptible to influenza.
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People at risk for severe illness with influenza who develop influenza like symptoms, or those who have severe symptoms, should contact their physician.Influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics are not effective against it; however antiviral drugs can be used if indicated.
During flu season, it is important for everyone, shots or not, to do his or her part to avoid spreading influenza by following these guidelines:
• Do your best to stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating.
• Stay home from school or work if you have a respiratory infection. Avoid exposing yourself to others who are sick with flu-like illness.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
• Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol based, waterless hand sanitizer.