MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — What looked like a possible sign of hope in this year’s difficult flu season is deceiving.

The Minnesota Department of Health released their newest flu report on Wednesday.

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According to the most recently released numbers, the health department says 622 school outbreaks have been reported this season, including 34 reported during the most recent week.

Last week, more than 80 people got so sick they had to stay in the hospital. The new report out Wednesday showed that number fell to just seven this week.

At a St. Francis church, the flu took out 14 kids, cancelling the Christmas play. For others, the flu changed their lives forever, which was the case for an Owatonna father who lost his 17-year-old daughter.

The health department reports three children have died from the flu. New numbers seemed to suggest the virus is tabling off, but the head of infectious diseases says the numbers are deceiving.

“What we see is an artifact of reporting and the holidays,” Kris Ehresmann said. “I think it will be a little bit longer before we can really say that influenza activity is really slowing down.”

Ehresmann said, in fact, the flu is still dangerously widespread in Minnesota. A Centers for Disease Control map shows Minnesota is shaded red, meaning it is among the most infected states in the country.

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The good news is that winter break at schools may have come at the right time in the flu season.

“We have seen a reduction in school outbreaks because kids aren’t in school,” Ehresmann said. “We’re hoping that the outcome of that is that we’ll see less activity after the break because they had a chance to go home get well.”

For this month alone, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota reports 689 patients as having the illness.

“When you come to the emergency room is when your child is having difficulty breathing, looking like a rag doll, can’t get that fever down, not eating or drinking,” said Patsy Stinchfield, director of infection prevention and control at Children’s Hospitals. “If you’re worried, that’s what we’re here for [to help], especially if your child is better and suddenly gets worse.”

Stinchfield added that about two weeks ago, Children’s experienced record-breaking numbers of kids going to the ER with flu symptoms. She said doctors saw about 400 children in a 24-period.

The health department expects to get more accurate numbers next week when data analysts are back at work and kids are back in school. As of this week at least 577 people have been in the hospital for the virus.

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The health department says it’s still worth your while to get a vaccine if you haven’t; whether or not it stops the flu, experts believe it could lighten the symptoms.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield