Three new H1N1-related deaths were announced Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health, bringing the total to six deaths since April.
The deaths, which included a Watonwan County woman in her 40s, a Dakota County woman in her 50s and a Ramsey County man in his 50s, occurred within the last two weeks.
State epidemiologist, Ruth Lynfield, said the deaths don't indicate a major change in how the virus is moving through Minnesota.
"We are seeing widespread activity in Minnesota," Lynfield said. "In the past two weeks, we've had almost 40 hospitalizations due to H1N1. These are all laboratory confirmed, and we have had in the past week 134 schools that have reported to us that they are seeing an increase influenza activity."
The health department has reported 324 hospitalized cases of H1N1 influenza, 39 of which have occurred in the past two weeks.
According to health officials, it is unknown if these absences are due to H1N1 or another flu-like illness, but they believe that this new strain of flu that first appeared last spring could be playing a significant role.
Lynfield said it's important for people to prepare a plan in advance.
"If you are someone who does have another medical condition or if you are pregnant or if its a young child or someone over the age of 65, we really urge you to make a plan with your doctor now for what to do if you were to develop an influenza illness," she said.
The department is waiting for medical confirmations before releasing the specific causes of deaths. All three persons had underlying health conditions.
"Losses such as this are always difficult to bear and to understand. Our sympathies are with their families and loved ones," Dr. Sanne Magnan, Minnesota Commissioner of Health said in a press release. "For most people, the H1N1 flu is not severe; however, it can still be very serious, especially for people with underlying health conditions. That's why we continue to monitor the situation closely."
Health officials say the close timing of the deaths does not indicate a significant change in the course of the disease.
Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said officials are continuing to investigate the links between chronic health problems and the H1N1 virus.
"I fully expect, unfortunately, that we will have more deaths due to H1N1 because we do know that in some people it does cause severe illness," she said.
Officials say the first doses of the flu vaccine will go to the most high risk groups and to health care workers.