Minnesota reports 6 new confirmed H1N1 flu deaths


Six more Minnesotans have died from H1N1 flu complications and a seventh flu death was likely caused by the H1N1 virus. There have now been 21 confirmed H1N1 deaths since April.

The latest flu victims resided in Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, Wadena, Stevens, Beltrami and Mower counties.

State epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said there were no children in the group.

"All of these individuals were adults between the ages of, someone in the 30s to someone in their 80s," said Lynfield. "And almost all of them had underlying conditions which increase the risk of severe illness."

Lynfield said the total of 21 H1N1 deaths is probably an under-representation of the number of Minnesotans who have actually died from H1N1. She says it's possible that many people have died from complications such as pneumonia or a heart attack, and no one bothered to test them to see if they had flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its estimates of H1N1 deaths nationally Thursday, to include people who have died from complications related to the flu. That change quadrupled the number of deaths from just a week ago.

The agency now estimates nearly 4,000 Americans have died from H1N1, including 540 children.

There are signs, though, that the virus is beginning to wane in some parts of the country -- including Minnesota. The Health Department says only 40 schools reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness last week. That's down by nearly 100 schools from the previous week.

Sentinel clinics that report influenza-like illness to state officials say their cases dropped to less than 2 percent last week. And calls to Minnesota's FluLine have gone down so much that wait times to talk to a nurse have dropped to one hour.

Flu-related hospitalizations also dropped significantly, but remain high for this time of year. Lynfield said she needs to see a more sustained drop in flu cases before she will feel comfortable saying that the virus is waning.

"I don't want to say that we have peaked, because we do want to have several weeks of data. We have seen in other parts of the country that there have been a decrease in hospitalizations, and then an increase the week after or the following week," she said.

At the same time that flu cases may be declining, state officials are starting to report some progress in their H1N1 vaccination campaign.

Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Health Department, said by the end of the week, Minnesota will have receive nearly 700,000 doses of vaccine. She said 99 percent of the clinics that serve pregnant women have received vaccine, and most of the pediatric clinics have gotten doses as well.

"0f 650 clinics that serve pediatric patients, 604 have received vaccine at this point," said Ehresmann. "On average, clinics are receiving about 45 percent of the requests that they've given us. So we have been able to reach out to 93 percent of the pediatric clinics at this point with the vaccine that's come into the state."

Some county and city public health agencies have also been able to hold limited vaccination clinics. Gretchen Musicant, Minneapolis health commissioner, said her city will begin vaccinating kids in six day care centers starting Friday. Those six centers will also serve as vaccination hubs for 78 other daycare centers.

Later next week, Musicant said Minneapolis will offer vaccinations at seven elementary schools for children age 9 and under, who have at least one member of the family enrolled in that school. The list of schools is not being released. Families in those schools will be informed of the clinics early next week.

Musicant said the schools were chosen based on the number of families who have limited access to health care.

"Issues like housing instability, parents who may be working more than one job and so have difficulty getting up to clinics, language issues," said Musicant. "We do know that there is a higher rate of asthma in urban populations, which is a complicating factor for H1N1."

The Minneapolis school clinics will open after the school day, and continue through the early evening hours next Thursday and Friday.

The Health Department says nearly all of Minnesota's counties should have enough vaccine to offer limited clinics next week.

But the agency had to inform 15 counties that their promised supplies may not arrive in time for those clinics. Ramsey County is one of them.

The state found out today that it will only get one-fourth of the vaccine doses that it was promised this week. The CDC blames unexpected delays in manufacturing.