Minnesota health officials have confirmed 23 more flu-related deaths, raising the season total to 27.
Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger told reporters Thursday the state is in the midst of its most severe flu outbreak in several years, and it's putting stress on the health care system.
More than 400 people were admitted to the hospitals for laboratory-confirmed flu last week. More than 1,100 people have been hospitalized with flu symptoms across Minnesota this season. Several hospitals have restricted visitors in an attempt to protect patients and staff. Most of the deaths and hospitalizations have been people over 65.
In Minnesota, 28 long-term care facilities reported outbreaks of influenza and five schools had outbreaks of influenza-like illness last week.
State health officials noted the past few flu seasons have been quite mild, so this one appears more severe. But the level of activity is not all that unusual.
"What is occurring has happened before," Ehlinger said. "This is what influenza looks like, this is what it can do. ... We never know at the beginning of a flu season what it's going to look like."
Department data show that Minnesota recorded 67 flu-related deaths and more than 1,800 hospitalizations during the 2009-2010 season, 70 deaths and more than 970 hospitalizations in the 2010-2011 season, and 33 deaths and more than 550 hospitalizations in the 2011-2012 season.
Ehlinger urges Minnesotans who have not been vaccinated against the flu to do so. It's not too late to get a flu shot, he said, but the sooner people who need them get them the better. The vaccine isn't 100 percent effective for everyone who gets it, but he said it is the best defense available against the flu.
Ehlinger also says that people who are sick with flu symptoms can help blunt the outbreak by staying home from work or school.
Flu activity is hitting hard around the U.S, with most states classifying it as widespread.