The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 4, 2013

Flu hitting south-central Minnesota hardest

MANKATO — When it comes to influenza, south-central Minnesota is a “hot spot.”

That’s not just a cute rhyme. It’s the official designation the state’s Department of Health is bestowing upon the region because this region is leading the state in influenza-based hospitalization cases per capita.

Between Dec.23-29, the state had recorded 226 flu cases that required hospitalization. Of those, 53 were in south-central Minnesota. Statewide so far this flu season, 578 people have been hospitalized.

Why is south-central Minnesota a hotbed of contagion?

“That’s a good question,” says Brad Krier of the Department of Health’s Mankato office. “Our region has the highest rate in the state.”

Early in the season, the health department encouraged everyone — as it does every year — to get flu shots. And it looks like 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.

Krier said that even people who have already had the flu should still get a flu shot. It’s possible to contract the other strain of flu. Also, it’s possible that a person’s bout with flu could be shortened with a shot.

“The flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective,” Krier said, “but it’s better than zero.”

Because school has been out for a few weeks locally, it’s possible that an increase in virus spread among students could result in a few more sick days than usual for area school districts.

At least one area hospital is getting proactive with virus containment measures.

New Ulm Medical Center has implemented temporary visitor restrictions, “To protect at-risk patients and staff from the seasonal influenza virus.”

The hospital will allow immediate family only to visit patients, and no more than two visitors at a time. Also, if you are sick, you may not visit, the hospital says.

That’s good advice for everyone, Krier said.

“Stay home when you’re sick,” he said. “One person says, ‘No I got a deadline, I gotta do this,’ and they’re exposing everyone. It can spread pretty quickly.”

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