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Child dies from flu; Minnesota officials urge more vaccinations

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Health officials describe this flu season as potentially severe
State health officials describe this flu season as potentially severe and warn cases may not yet have peaked. Rumors that this year's vaccine is ineffective are misleading, the state's infectious disease director says.
Nikki Tundel | MPR News file

Minnesota's flu season is shaping up as potentially severe, with outbreaks rising and one pediatric flu death already reported, the state Health Department said Thursday.

Seasonal data through Jan. 6 show 1,765 flu-related hospitalizations, 55 outbreaks of influenza-like illness in long-term care facilities and another 43 in schools, the agency reported Thursday in its weekly flu data update.

"Now is the time to get your flu vaccine if you have not already," Kris Ehresmann, the state's director of infectious disease, said in a statement. "Even otherwise-healthy people can become very sick from flu, and we still have a lot of flu season left. Flu can easily circulate through April and beyond."

Ehresmann said rumors that the flu vaccine is not effective this year are misleading. "It is too early for us to know what the flu vaccine effectiveness is for the U.S., and we can't make predictions based on what happened in other countries like Australia because it's not an equal comparison."

Even in a perfectly matched year, the vaccine will not prevent every case of flu, but more people being vaccinated means more protection in the community so the spread of flu can be limited, she added.

"While we know that every season we will see deaths in children, we don't like to see that," Ehresmann said of the recent pediatric flu death. "This was a child that had some underlying health conditions, and it's a reminder to all of us about the importance of being vaccinated not just to protect ourselves, but to protect people around us who might not respond to vaccines as well."

H3N2, the season's dominant influenza strain in Minnesota and across the country, has been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in young children and adults age 65 and older compared to other age groups, the agency said, adding, "it is very important for young children, older adults and others at high risk for complications from flu to get vaccinated."

Flu symptoms, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should seek medical care, the Health Department said.