MANKATO — While statewide influenza cases dipped in recent weeks, January is shaping up to be the busiest month of the season so far for clinics in the Mankato area.

The Minnesota Department of Health measured 148 flu hospitalizations during the week ending on Jan. 11, compared to 243 hospitalizations the prior week.

But at the local level, both Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mankato Clinic have seen a large proportion of their seasonal flu cases occur this month.

Mayo in Mankato has had 90 flu cases in the first half of January, about 46% of its 197 total cases since the season began in fall 2019. Mankato Clinic’s first half of January included 164 flu cases, about 40% of the 415 total since fall 2019.

Most statewide and local cases have been influenza B, the strain more commonly impacting younger age groups. This could explain why there have been 330 outbreaks in schools across the state compared to just 22 in long-term care facilities, according to the health department.

Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Karen Martin said the B strain usually peaks later in the year, but it appears B and A flipped their timing this year.

“It’s still early in the season,” she said. “And while influenza B has been the dominant strain, we’re starting to see increases in influenza A, particularly H1N1.”

No south-central Minnesota counties have had flu outbreaks at long-term care facilities in the 2019-2020 season. Several counties, however, have had school outbreaks.

A school outbreak occurs when schools report at least 5% of students being absent with influenza-like illnesses, or when three or more students are sent home or absent on a given day in one classroom at an elementary school. Nicollet County reported four outbreaks at schools so far, compared to three in Le Sueur County and two in Blue Earth County.

Bree Allen, Nicollet County’s health promotion and prevention services supervisor, said the county partners with schools, St. Peter’s free clinic, long-term care facilities and hosts public flu clinics to promote vaccinations. The county has distributed at least 540 vaccinations this season, and Allen said vaccines are still highly recommended with the A strain potentially peaking later this year.

“It’s so easy to think we’re midway through the winter and there’s no need to get your flu shot, but it’s never too late,” she said, also recommending people wash their hands and stay home from work or school when sick.

The flu season continues into the spring, leaving plenty more time for cases to spike again. Although the recent dip in cases could mean the state already reached peak season, it’d be an unusually early time for it to happen. The previous four seasons peaked between about late January and mid-March.

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