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Sixty Flu-Related Deaths Now Reported In Minnesota

More than a week after Carly Christenson died, people continue to be hospitalized as a result of the flu.

Updated 5:30 p.m. Jan. 17: The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) reports that there have been 60 flu-related deaths in Minnesota since the beginning of the flu season.

Thirty-three people died from Jan. 6 to 12, according to the MDH. Those include .

According to a Fox 9 news report, 88 percent of the deaths were patients age 65 or older, making up 53 of the 60 fatal cases this season. There were no deaths in the past week involving patients younger than 24.

A total of 1,842 have been hospitalized due to "laboratory-confirmed influenza" since the flu season started, according to the MDH. Two hundred fifty-four flu outbreaks in schools have been reported so far, with 92 just last week.

Google flu trends graphic shows Minnesota's influenza activity still is characterized as "intense." The entire United States is listed at "high" or "intense" flu activity.

Related:

  • More Than 60 Get Flu Shots At Community Breakfast
  • Fly Orange Balloons Saturday For Carly Christenson
  • Obituary: Carly Christenson of St. Louis Park
  • Carly's Church Devotes Part Of Wednesday Service To Her
  • Flu-Stricken SLP High School Student Has '50-50' Chance: WCCO

Updated 5 p.m. Jan. 11: Correction: Holy Family Catholic Church does not use a communal cup and congregants do not shake hands during the sign of peace. A previous version of the story implied that they use a common cup and shake hands.

During this weekend's Catholic masses at Holy Family Catholic Church and Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in St. Louis Park, signs of peace and wine distribution will go on as normal.

Some churches, like Holy Family, do not use a communal cup and do not ask congregants to shake hands during the sign of peace. For other church congregations, however, that do use a common cup and shake hands, the Mass for now will remain the same.

Several dioceses across the country, including Boston, have told priests they can suspend or modify the actions in an effort to curb the spread of flu.

"We have not instituted anything yet," said Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "If we do, it would be up to the discretion of individual parishes whether or not to adopt them."

The last time revisions were made to mass due to flu concerns was in 2009, when the rapid spread of the H1N1 strain prompted many of the nation's priests, including many in Minnesota, to suspend wine distribution and encourage members of the congregation to verbally give the sign of peace to one another.

***

Updated 5 p.m. Jan. 10: This flu season is proving brutal in Minnesota, with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) now reporting 27 deaths in the state, including 23 that officials have been able to confirm as flu-related since Dec. 30.

Those include . Carly's memorial service will be held Saturday, according to an obituary from Westwood Lutheran Church.

Since the start of the influenza season, 1,121 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza, according to the MDH reports for the 2012–13 season. That numbers includes 401 hospitalizations for the week ending Jan. 5.

MDH officials say the number of those hospitalized throughout the state rivals those seen during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, but there is no evidence the current wave of illnesses is prompted by a new virus.

"What is occurring has happened before," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said in a news release. "This is what influenza looks like, this is what it can do. That’s why we stress every year the importance of prevention measures, such as getting a flu shot, covering your cough, washing your hands and staying home if you are ill. We never know at the beginning of a flu season what it’s going to look like.”

In addition to the 27 deaths reported so far, MDH officials say there were 28 outbreaks in long-term care facilities over the past week.

Of those hospitalized, 62 percent were older than 65 and 15 percent were younger than 25, Ehlinger said. 

The 27 deaths in Minnesota so far include a total of four younger than 65, Ehlinger said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Authorities are still evaluating other factors that might have contributed to the deaths, including other medical conditions and infections.

"Influenza is a severe illness," Ehlinger said. "People die from influenza. ... Because [the vaccination] is not 100 percent effective, it's important that more people get the vaccine" to reduce the overall pool of infected people who could pass influenza to more vulnerable populations.

Because so many of the serious cases are occurring in long-term care residents, Ehlinger stressed that it’s very important for long-term care facilities to make sure that all their staff are vaccinated against influenza to help prevent the spread of flu to vulnerable residents. Also, MDH is advising facilities to follow guidelines designed to limit transmission of the virus, such as restricting visitors, particularly anyone who is ill. 

Ehlinger said those areas hardest hit with flu are implementing portions of plans developed for pandemic influenza. Hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities within each region are coordiating the use of resources such as beds, supplies and medicines.

All but a handful of U.S. states have reported a dramatic increase in flu-related illnesses.  

Overall in Minnesota, activity is categorized as "intense," while it was categorized as "low" at this time in 2011, according to Flu Trends.

Community members are advised to:

  1. Stay home when ill.
  2. Cover your cough
  3. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
  4. Treat symptoms with over the counter medications.
  5. Seek prescribed medication treatment such as antiviral (Tamiflu) only ig you'tr sn individual at high risk of complications (older than 65, younger than 2, or with chronic diseases).

All healthy visitors are reminded to:

  1. Clean your hands after arriving and before departing;
  2. Use a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze;
  3. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.

Note: The Parent Teacher Organization of Aquila Elementary in St. Louis Park will hold a flu immunization clinic and community breakfast on Saturday morning.

***

Updated 5 a.m. Jan. 10: The flu is sickening—and killing—people across the United States. Five people have died in Minnesota as a result of the flu. Those deaths included  Tuesday of flu-related complications.

A month ago, the Google flu trends graph listed Minnesota activity as "high." Now the graph is pegged above "intense."

Before Tuesday, The Minnesota Department of Health reported four deaths in the state so far this flu season (as of Dec. 29, 2012). One of those who died also was a teenager: Max Schwolert, 17, of Texas, died Dec. 29 while hospitalized in St. Paul after becoming sick with the flu. He had been visiting relatives in Wisconsin, the Star Tribune reported.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health's website said that as of Jan. 3, 578 persons have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza. However, an Associated Press story said 900 people have been hospitalized as of Wednesday, according to State Epidemiologist Brad Krier.

In the last week of December, 226 people alone were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza.

***

Flu season is coming early in parts of the United States, including Minnesota, and some of the cases have involved severe illnesses.

This time last year, flu cases were lower in Minnesota than they are now, according to data on Google's Flu Trends. (St. Louis Park-specific data is not available on Flu Trends, but flu cases in the Twin Cities metro are in line with the state as a whole.)

Overall in Minnesota, activity is categorized as "high," while it was categorized as "low" at this time in 2011, according to Flu Trends.

And not only is the flu season starting earlier than usual, some of the illnesses in Minnesota are severe.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health reports that for this 2012-13 season, 30 people have been hospitalized with labratory confirmed influenza. Eight people were put into care last week alone, with four cases of Influenza A, and a single confirmed case of the B virus. 

If you're considering getting a flu shot, here are some places in St. Louis Park that offer the vaccine:

Cub Foods

HealthPartners West Clinic

Park Nicollet

Target

Walgreens

According to this week's CDC Flu activity report, influenza levels are on the increase not just in Minnesota but across the country. 

Five states—Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee—are reporting flu rates not normally seen until January, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The flu season normally peaks in January and February.

Holiday travel and more time spent indoors due to soggy weather will contribute to the spread of the flu virus, so now is the time to get vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers the following information:

If you know of another place where people can get the flu vaccine, tell us in the comments.

Associate Regional Editor Scott Fagerstrom and Local Editors Chris Steller and Jay Corn contributed to this report.

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Michael Hindin January 10, 2013 at 02:55 PM
As a parent, the loss of Carly Christensen is the worst tragedy that can befall a family. Our prayers are with Carly's family, friends and our community. The rest of us can help stop the spread of this virus. While vaccines are not 100% effective and some individuals don't have adequate immune systems or underlying problems, we can help protect them by getting vaccinated ourselves. There is a public health principle called herd immunity that recognizes that if about 70% of the population is immunized, there are too few susceptible individuals to transmit viruses effectively. Immune people are a barrier to transmission to the very young, the very old and other individuals who can't be vaccinated successfully. Please do your part and get vaccinated.
Emily B January 11, 2013 at 04:52 PM
As a bus rider, I think it is very important that people who are really sick avoid using public transit if they can. It is such a confined space and one sick person could infect a lot of folks in a short time. If you are a bus rider, make sure to wash your hands every time after you get off the bus/train and ALWAYS before eating. Never touch your eyes without washing them first, since that is often how people get sick.
E. Hessian January 12, 2013 at 07:17 PM
I'm just wondering what kind of research was done regarding flu precautions at Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park. I doubt anyone actually contacted a person at the church, for if they did they would know our congregation has not shook hands for the last three years. Also we do not use a "communal" wine cup, Instead our priest dips the host into the wine if the communicant wishes to participate that way. Our church has been taking these precautions for at least three years, if not longer. In every bulletin there are weekly reminders about proper hand washing, staying home if you are sick & other precautions. As a parishioner, I feel HFC is far "ahead of the curve" in helping to keep its congregation safe and healthy. Maybe the writer meant these procedures will continue as they are, and no other precautions need be taken at this time. Next time the Patch should contact the church itself to clarify & verify a story before making a church appear unwilling to keep it's members and the wider public safe during the flu season. ~ e hessian
Kevira Voegele (Editor) January 12, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Hi @E. Hessian: You brought up a very good point. We received a statement from the Archdiocese and did not contact each church in each Patch. Yes, we should've. I'm correcting the story to indicate that Holy Family does not use a communal cup. We certainly didn't mean to imply that any church would be putting its congregants at risk. Some Catholics believe the common cup is blessed and therefore no one will become sick from using it. I'm sorry we got that wrong.

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