By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota health department reports that the flu is now widespread in the state.

Ninety-four people were hospitalized two weeks ago, and another 74 were admitted this past week.

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“The last two weeks have seen quite an increase. Half of our cases were really just in that last week,” nurse practitioner Patsy Stinchfield said.

Beds are filling up at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, most because of influenza. Stinchfield said a spike in flu cases at Children’s Hospital has come later in the season than in years past.

“Typically we see influenza peaking around the first of the year, but this year the first of the year came and went and we did not see much influenza here in Minnesota, here at Children’s, and really across the country. It’s just been in that last couple of weeks in February here and into March that we are starting to see an increase in our cases here at Children’s,” Stinchfield said.

Stinchfield thinks this year’s vaccine has lots to do with the late start to the flu season.

“What is circulating with influenza is what’s in the vaccine, so those four strains that are protecting us are working well,” Stinchfield said.

That was not the case last year.

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“We had a mismatch in our vaccine compared to the viruses that came, so we just did not have the protection, “Stinchfield said.

Last year Children’s Hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul had 1,300 flu cases, 170 people were hospitalized and 10 people died.

Stinchfield says people who did not get the flu shot this year should do so quickly, before this next wave of the flu virus hits.

“Often we will see a late season spring outbreak of influenza B that can be really hard on kids. Our vaccine has two B strains that will protect them, so it’s well worth getting vaccinated if you haven’t done so already,” Stinchfield said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says the flu affected students in 29 schools. The experts say this tells them what is happening in the community. They usually see those who are sick at school at clinics and hospitals within a week.

Earlier this week, Allina Health said they would be restricting visitors to hospitals in an effort to protect patients and staff members from influenza. The restrictions went into effect on Wednesday.

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For more information on clinics offering flu shots, click here.

Reg Chapman