MANKATO — The first confirmed case of the flu has been recorded and it’s three weeks earlier than last year’s first case.
The timing, though, is no indication of whether we’ll have a “hot zone” year like last year in southern Minnesota — where hundreds came down with the illness and filled clinic and hospital waiting rooms — or a down year like the one before that.
Officials from Mayo Clinic Health System, the Mankato Clinic, the state’s Department of Health and public health officials from Blue Earth and Nicollet counties held a joint news conference Wednesday to let the public know they’re prepared in the event that southern Minnesota sees a record number of cases again. The other message: Everyone should get a flu shot.
The one case so far this season, which was just confirmed Tuesday, did not require hospitalization. Exactly which strain of flu it is will be answered later after Department of Health officials analyze it.
When those first cases do get analyzed, health department officials will get their first indications of how effective this year’s vaccine will be.
The vaccine, which is now widely available at clinics, pharmacies and drug stores, comes in a variety of forms. This year the new version is called a quadravalent vaccine, which vaccinates for four different strains, two from the A family and two from the B family.
Usually the vaccine comes ready to fight three strains, two A strains and one B, a so-called trivalent vaccine. But because of the ferocity of last year’s flu season, the new vaccine was beefed up as well to include an additional B strain.
Brad Krier, a Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist based in Mankato, said last year’s vaccine was a “pretty good match,” and that it proved effective about 60 percent of the time. Krier and Dr. Richard Peller said the vaccine’s general effectiveness rate year to year is closer to 70-90 percent for people who are otherwise healthy and don’t fall into the vulnerable demographics: the very old, and the very young.