Minnesota has recorded its first culture-confirmed case of influenza for the 2008-2009 season in a 39-year-old man from Chisago County.
The man's illness was caused by the A (H1) strain of the virus, the Minnesota Department of Health reported Friday. The man's virus is a good match for this year's vaccine, health officials said.
While there have been reports of influenza cases around the state already this year, this announcement marks the official start of flu season in Minnesota. It's also a reminder that it's time to seek influenza vaccination, if you haven't already.
"Identifying influenza in the laboratory helps us know which strains are circulating and tells us how well this year's vaccine will protect people from influenza and its complications," said Kristen Ehresmann, section chief for immunizations at MDH.
State health officials said there is an added incentive to get vaccinated this year. Preliminary information from the CDC indicates that the currently circulating strain of influenza A (H1) is not susceptible to oseltamivir (Tamiflu), the antiviral medication most commonly used to treat and prevent influenza.
Widespread influenza activity in Minnesota usually peaks in February, but cases can occur as late as May. Flu season is off to a typical start this year; the first flu case historically has been confirmed most often in late November or early December.
This year, recommendations have expanded to include all children from six months through 18 years of age. The expansion is based on evidence that influenza vaccination is effective and safe for school-age children and that influenza illness significantly impacts school absenteeism, increases antibiotic use and leads to more medical care visits and parental work loss. Not only are children at risk for influenza when unvaccinated, but infected children often transmit influenza to other vulnerable people such as grandparents and other caregivers age 50 and over.
Health officials strongly recommend that people who are most at risk for complications from influenza get an annual flu shot. Those most at risk include:
People 50 years of age and older;
People with chronic illnesses;
Children six months to 18 years of age;
Residents of nursing homes or other chronic care facilities.
Children under six months of age cannot receive flu vaccine, so household contacts should be vaccinated to protect the very young.
For more information, contact Stevens Traverse Grant County Public Health at (320) 589-7425.
In addition, flu shots are strongly recommended for health-care workers in order to help protect those most susceptible to influenza.
Ehresmann noted that not only should people who are in the high risk groups get immunized, but also people who have regular contact with them should strongly consider being immunized. "People in these groups can end up in the hospital - or even die - if they get the flu."
Each year in the United States, an average of 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza. In Minnesota, hundreds of people, young and old, are hospitalized each year due to complications of influenza. It is one of the leading causes of death for people 65 and older, but children under five have high rates of hospitalization also.
More information on who is most at risk for complications from influenza and who should seek influenza vaccination can be found on the MDH Web site at www.health.state.mn.us. This site also has a listing of public flu vaccination clinics. To find the influenza vaccination clinic nearest you, go to www.mdhflu.com and click on "Find a flu shot clinic."
Shipments of vaccine from the manufacturers to providers appear to be arriving smoothly and on time this season, Ehresmann said.
The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician. Influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics are not effective against it.
During flu season, it is important for everyone, shots or not, to do his or her part to avoid spreading influenza by following these guidelines:
* Do your best to stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, physical activity and healthy eating.
* Stay home from school or work if you have a respiratory infection. Avoid exposing yourself to others who are sick with flu-like illness.
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue whenever you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue away. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
* Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
* Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol based, waterless hand sanitizer.