MN Health Department: 167 new school flu outbreaks before winter break

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Flu shot
Stacy Fox of Maplewood, left, receives a seasonal influenza vaccine from Karen Schirmer at the HealthPartners Midway Clinic in St. Paul in August 2009. The state Health Department said the recent school outbreaks are related to the type of influenza virus that’s been active so far this season.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2009

Flu-like illness caused widespread absences at Minnesota schools last week ahead of winter break, the Minnesota Department of Health said Thursday.

According to the agency’s weekly flu numbers, 167 new school outbreaks were reported. That compares to 60 the previous week.

"At this point we would just encourage [schools] to take advantage of the break and make sure that they — their students, the staff — are all getting healthy before they come back to school,” said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Schools report outbreaks to the Health Department when 5 percent or more of students are absent with flu-like illness.

Ehresmann said Type B influenza is most active in the state, and that type tends to lead to more outbreaks among young people. The virus is widespread in the state, but it isn’t too late to get vaccinated, she said.

“There’s more to come, so if you have not been vaccinated, please do take advantage of that,” Ehresmann said.

She said the flu season is happening earlier than usual, but there can be a second wave of activity later in the season.

“Even though we’re seeing a lot of activity now, that doesn’t mean that come January we won’t have anything to worry about,” she said.

The Health Department has recorded seven flu-related deaths so far this season. All of them have been adults.