Officials from the Minnesota Health Department say a 17-month-old and an 8-year-old are the latest children to die from the influenza virus in the state. Officials won't identify the children, citing privacy concerns, but say one was from the Twin Cities and the other was from greater Minnesota.
Their deaths follow last week's announcement that an 8-year-old boy from Ramsey County also died from the flu.
Richard Danila, deputy state epidemiologist, says all three children had the H-1 strain of the virus, and none of them was vaccinated.
Other than that, he says there's no connection between the cases.
"Of these three children, none of them knew each other, there were no contacts, they lived far apart from each other," says Danila. "So at this point, we think it's just an unfortunate cluster of cases that just happened to be occurring in Minnesota. And it's probably nothing more than chance alone at this point."
Danila says flu deaths among children are not common. Nationwide, 13 children have died from the flu so far this year, including the three in Minnesota. Typically, 100 children die each year out of 36,000 total deaths.
The flu season got off to a late start this year, but already there have been 224 reports of influenza outbreaks in Minnesota schools this season, compared to 199 for the entire season last year.
Patsy Stinchfield is a pediatric nurse practitioner and the director of infectious disease at Children's Hospitals of Minnesota. She says the number of infections among children this year is not that different from previous years.
"But the one thing that is different about this year is that we had no activity October, November, December, very minimal toward the end of December," Stinchfield. "And January, first and second week, a couple of cases, and then all of a sudden a very steep spike in cases in the last couple of weeks of January."
Health officials are urging parents to have their children vaccinated. They say the vaccine is readily available, and in fact, a number of clinics will be set up again this weekend for parents and children who need flu shots.