The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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January 9, 2013

Update: Southern Minnesota still leading state in flu cases

Group of local health care, public health and school officials address media regarding flu season

NORTH MANKATO — Health officials have not said this year’s flu season will reach pandemic proportions, but they are saying it’s a year worse than normal.

Officials from health care providers, the state Department of Health and Mankato Area Public Schools gathered Wednesday to bring the public up to speed on the status of flu cases in southern Minnesota — and to again remind people to get flu shots and wash their hands.

Southern Minnesota remains a so-called “hot spot” for flu with 19 cases per 100,000 residents. The next hottest spot for flu is the Twin Cities with 12 cases per 100,000 residents.

“Other areas are starting to catch up,” said epidemiologist Brad Krier of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato announced it has implemented tougher rules for visitors at its 15 hospitals in Minnesota and South Dakota. The Mankato Clinic said its Urgent Care numbers are up 40 percent over last year, and Mayo Clinic’s Urgent Care numbers have doubled.

Mankato Area Public School Supt. Sheri Allen said that before winter break the district saw a spike in both student and staff absences. This week, however, she said numbers are back to normal.

At several instances during a news conference Wednesday, health care officials made mention of the H1N1 pandemic that occurred several years ago and how the coalition of area health care and public health agencies came together to vaccinate thousands.

“We’re very good at doing this,” said Kevin Burns, spokesman for Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

During the 2009’s H1N1 pandemic, 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.

Statewide, there have been roughly 900 people hospitalized since the flu season began in October. Locally, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato has seen 85, including 25 who are in the hospital now.

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