The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 7, 2013

Area epidemiologist says flu peak appears to be done

South-central Minnesota as hot spot is cooling down

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — By today the latest flu numbers will be out. But Brad Krier has a good idea what those numbers will tell us.

“By the sounds of it, it looks like our peak is done,” the epidemiologist for south-central Minnesota said.

The state’s Department of Health has been issuing weekly updates on Thursdays, and last week’s update showed the peak had passed. Today’s update is likely to show further evidence to that fact, but there are still new cases being reported.

The south-central region had 10 hospitalizations in the past week — enough to be concerned, but clearly showing the region, like the rest of the state, is seeing fewer cases.

Since the onset of the flu season in October, south-central Minnesota remains the hot spot. It still has the highest flu rates. But it’s no longer the hot spot it once was. Several weeks ago the state’s media descended on Mankato because of the region’s higher-than-normal flu numbers.

“Our numbers have gone down substantially, the number of hospitalized patients has gone down,” Krier said. “Emergency rooms and urgent cares have slowed down, all those numbers are going down, all our surveillance tools are showing that numbers are decreasing.”

As of the end of January, 2,367 have been hospitalized with influenza since October — 37 of which ended in death. Since the flu season began, 412 cases were reported by schools (none were reported in Blue Earth or Nicollet counties in the last week of January).

The last time there was a big flu outbreak was 2009’s H1N1 pandemic, when the Mankato area set up mass vaccinations at Minnesota State University and got thousands vaccinated in a few days. Health officials said during this year’s flu season some locations have actually seen more patients than during 2009.

Krier reiterated that this year’s vaccine is proving effective.

Included in the vaccine are inoculations for three strains: two from the A family and one from the B. Krier said 91 percent of the viruses examined were a good match for the vaccine. Of those who had the A strain, the vaccine was 99 percent effective. On the B strain, it was 70 percent effective.

Some, however, will debate the effectiveness.

Mike Osterholm, former state epidemiologist who is now employed by the University of Minnesota, said their research suggests vaccines are only 59 percent effective.

“Today’s flu shot is like an iPhone 1.0,” Osterholm said. “What we need is an iPhone 10.0.”

Department of Health officials, though, are advising people to get the shot.

“Sixty percent effectiveness is better than zero percent,” Krier said.

Even though we’re past the peak, Krier said it’s a good idea to get a flu shot.