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Hopkins Institutions Avoiding Worst of Flu Epidemic So Far

Schools and organizations haven’t seen the big outbreaks reported elsewhere.

Hopkins institutions appear to be doing well weathering a flu season that officials have classified as “intense” as it approaches the severity of the 2009 pandemic.

There have been at least 138 flu-like outbreaks in Minnesota schools since the start of the season, according to a Minnesota Department of Health report released Thursday. Yet Hopkins Public Schools has not seen an increase in absences from flu, spokeswoman Jolene Goldade said via e-mail.

The district is preparing for it, though. Elementary schools are putting prevention information in the weekly parent newsletters, and the secondary schools have flu-prevention tips scrolling on the TV announcement monitors.

Blake School spokeswoman Tracy Grimm said that institution isn’t seeing any more absences than a typical year either.

The City of Hopkins has had a couple people sick, but those cases aren’t necessarily flu, Assistant City Manager Jim Genellie said. The city continues to encourage hand washing and ask stick employees to stay at home but isn’t doing anything extraordinary in response to the outbreak, he said.

According to the Health Department report, 59 flu-like outbreaks have been reported in long-term care facilities statewide.But Augustana Chapel View has not had any confirmed cases of flu in its facility, said Rosie Loftus, the center’s infection control coordinator. That may be in part because the facility has a 90 percent vaccination rate among its residents.

Still, Augustana Chapel View is the only long-term care facility in its network that hasn’t had a flu case, Loftus said. The center has implemented daily surveillance of residents and staff to watch for cases. It has also implemented visiting restrictions for children younger than 12 and anyone not feeling well.

“This is early for flu season,” Loftus said. “Usually we peak in February.”

 

State sees surge in flu reports

The Health Department reports that 1,121 people have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza since the start of this year's flu season. In comparison, the 2009 pandemic tallied more than 1,700 people hospitalized statewide, according to the Star Tribune.

Of those hospitalized, 62 percent over older than 65 and 15 percent and younger than 25, said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger.

This year has also seen 27 confirmed flu-related deaths—including St. Louis Park teen Carly Christenson and 17-year-old Max Schwolert.

The 27 deaths in Minnesota so far include a total of four younger than 65, Ehlinger said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. One of those four is younger than 18, officials at the press conference said. 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.  

This time last year, flu cases were lower in Minnesota than they are now, according to data on Google's Flu Trends. (Hopkins-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 "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.

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

 

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