Flu season hit Minnesota hard, and it's not over yet

Flu vaccine
Medical assistant Lim Ros prepares to administer a flu vaccine at Central Pediatrics in St. Paul, Minn., on October 25, 2011.
Nikki Tundel for MPR News 2011

The flu has hit Minnesotans hard this year, with more than 6,000 flu-related hospitalizations, more than any other year since the state government started tracking such cases 10 years ago.

A health department official says the season is not yet over.

"Flu is not gone, so we encourage people to keep taking those precautions, stay at home when you're sick, wash your hands, [and] cover your cough," said Jennifer Heath, supervisor of the education and partnerships unit at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Minnesota reported 6,030 hospitalizations for treatment of flu-related symptoms through March 31, the highest number since the health department started tracking influenza-related hospitalizations in 2008. The previous high was 4,081 during the 2014-2015 flu season.

The H3N2 virus that was prevalent this year often causes more severe flu symptoms.

"This year has been a pretty significant year for flu and the dominant strain has been that H3 strain and that tends to be more severe and that's borne out in the number of hospitalizations," said Heath.

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The flu vaccine was less effective this year than in previous years, working 36 percent of the time. The vaccine effective rate for the 2016-2017 flu season was 40 percent.

But the vaccine can still prevent many flu cases, according to Heath, who cites data from the federal Centers for Disease Control.

"Vaccine actually averted 30,900,000 illness in 2016-2017, and the vaccine helped avert 600,000 hospitalizations," said Heath. She said it's still a good idea to get vaccinated, even this late in the season.

Flu led to five pediatric deaths so far this season. The number of adult deaths related to influenza won't be available until later this year.