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Health Officials: This Year’s Flu Season Could Be Severe

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(credit: CBS) Holly Wagner
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A flu outbreak has hit Minnesota early and health officials say it could get worse.

The Minnesota Department of Health says so far this flu season, 600 people have had to be hospitalized. That’s more than the number of people who were hospitalized during all of the last flu season.

From what health officials are hearing from hospitals and clinics across Minnesota, they say there is definitely something going on with the flu and they’re concerned this could turn out to be a severe flu season.

The first case of the flu was diagnosed in October this season, which is a lot earlier than normal.

Director of Infectious Disease Kris Ehresmann says sometimes they don’t see the flu surface until around Thanksgiving.

Ehresmann says the strain that’s frequently popping up, H3N2, comes with a punch and more people end up being hospitalized because of it.

If you get it, Ehresmann says you may feel like you were hit by a truck, high fever, cough, body aches and headaches.

For those who have gotten the flu shot, the strains that are showing up are included in the vaccine.

“We know that the vaccine is not 100 percent perfect. That for healthy adults the effectiveness is about 59 to 60 percent. We know there are people who have been vaccinated who could still develop influenza. On the other hand, we know not getting vaccinated provides you with zero protection,” said Ehresmann.

Ehresmann says if you haven’t gotten a flu shot get one.

If you don’t think you are at risk, she says think about the people you are around who may be more vulnerable to the flu like babies, people with underlying health issues, the elderly and pregnant women.

For those people feeling under the weather who still go to work, Ehresmann says stay home. You could potentially expose someone to the virus for who the flu could be really serious.

A Tragic Case

At least two people have already died, not including a healthy 17-year-old boy.

Max Schwolert caught the flu in western Wisconsin over Christmas. Four days later, he died at a hospital in St. Paul.

He was visiting relatives near Amery, Wis. when he got sick on Christmas Day. The next day, he was airlifted to Regions Hospital where he died on Dec. 29, 2012.

According to his Caring Bridge site, after the flu, he got Pneumonia and then a staph infection.

He hadn’t gotten a flu shot. Now, his relatives are urging everyone to get one.

“I am the first one to say that my family does not get a flu shot, but we will and we will advocate that from now on,” said his aunt, Michelle Schwolert.

However, even a flu shot is no guarantee. Health Department officials say the vaccine will prevent the flu 60 percent of the time, but experts say those odds are a lot better than not getting the vaccine and getting no protection at all.

Experts say the real danger is a case like Max’s the flu can lead to life threatening complications.

“Influenza really opens the door,” said Ehresmann. “Individuals who develop influenza are then in a position where they may develop secondary infections, so pneumonia is often times common following an influenza infection.”

Another concern: The Health Department says the strain of flu this year is the H3 strain, which historically has led to more hospitalizations.

Health Care providers say there is still plenty of vaccine available, since we are only in week three of what is usually a 16-week flu season. But remember it does take about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.

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