According to a weekly report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), influenza activity is on the rise. Hospitalizations due to influenza, positive influenza tests, and the number of influenza-like illness outbreaks have all increased. In addition, the season’s first death in a child was reported this week, as an Owatonna teen succumbed, suddenly to her symptoms.
“With influenza on the rise, now is the time to get your flu vaccine if you haven’t already,” said Kris Ehresmann, director of MDH’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control division. “It takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, so you can reduce your chances of getting influenza during the holiday season by getting vaccinated now.”
National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) is Dec. 7-13. MDH is participating in this campaign by partnering with local public health agencies and other health care providers to urge all Minnesotans to get their annual influenza vaccination. Local public health agencies, nonprofit groups and health care organizations in many Minnesota communities will sponsor influenza vaccination clinics during NIVW.
Influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older unless they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. It is especially important for those at high risk for serious complications from influenza to be vaccinated. These include pregnant women, seniors, young children and those with chronic medical conditions. Individuals with a weakened immune system, including elderly, may not respond as well to the vaccine. In addition, children under 6 months of age can’t get vaccinated. It is important that household contacts and caretakers get vaccinated to protect the elderly and these young infants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information this week that some of the circulating influenza A (H3N2) type viruses, the most common so far, have changed somewhat from the vaccine strain. This is not unusual, as it is difficult to predict the strains that will circulate in time to produce flu vaccine, MDH reports. Despite the possibility of a poor match, vaccination may still provide protection against severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. Additionally, the vaccine will offer protection against influenza strains that have not changed, which still make up approximately half of the influenza circulating in the United States.
Influenza can be a serious, even life-threatening illness.
“The best way to reduce your risk of serious illness is with vaccination,” Ehresmann said. “While the vaccine won’t stop every case of flu, it is the most specific tool we have to prevent the disease.”
To locate a flu clinic nearest you, go to the MDH influenza website at www.mdhflu.com and select Vaccine Clinic Look-Up. Enter your ZIP code in the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find clinics close to you. Influenza vaccinations also may be given at other locations and times not listed on the vaccine finder tool. Check with your physician’s office or regular walk-in clinic about getting vaccinated against the flu.
Besides getting vaccinated, there are other steps you can take to avoid spreading or catching influenza:
- Stay home from school or work if you are sick. Avoid exposing yourself to others who are sick with flu-like illness.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
- Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
- Get plenty of rest, physical activity and eat healthy to help stay healthy.
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician.
More information on influenza and influenza activity is on the MDH website.