A Minnesota child has died from complications of the flu, state officials reported Thursday as this season’s outbreak continues to spread.
Outpatient clinics reported that nearly 5 percent of all patients had influenza-like symptoms, a high for the flu season that is now more than four months old.
There were also 22 flu outbreaks in nursing facilities, and 37 outbreaks were reported in Minnesota schools over the past two weeks, according to data released by the Minnesota Department of Health.
“We’ve been seeing activity pick up for the past few weeks, so we are heading into peak activity right now,” said Karen Martin, an epidemiologist with the department. “Typically, we see peak season happen between December and March.”
Last year, the number of hospitalizations from the flu peaked in late March. Current trend lines put the number of hospitalizations ahead of last year’s pace, with 715 requiring hospital care so far this season compared to 1,500 cases in all of last season.
Health officials urge that people get the flu shot if they haven’t already received one. People with flu-like symptoms should also seek medical attention.
That’s especially true for those with chronic health issues, such as a lung or heart condition, or those with compromised immune systems, said Dr. Larry Richmond, a physician with Park Nicollet Clinic in Plymouth.
“There is usually a lot of muscle pain involved with influenza, and high fever is another clue,” Richmond said. He also cautioned that breathing problems should be of concern.
“Feeling short of breath with minimal activity — that is a red flag that you should get in,” he said.
Richmond said his clinic has seen an uptick in flu cases.
“Things were very quiet in the early part of the season,” he said, but in the past week, the Plymouth clinic has seen several confirmed cases.
While the most severe cases will require hospitalization, some cases can be treated at home with medications.
“Antiviral medication can reduce the duration and severity of the flu, and it can also reduce the transmission and contagiousness of the flu,” said Richmond.
Health officials, citing privacy laws, did not provide details about the child’s death, the first of this flu season. Each year, Minnesota sees deaths in children from flu complications. The highest death toll was 10, in the 2014-15 flu season.
The Health Department does not keep an official tally of flu deaths in adults.
The state’s flu outbreak is currently considered to be widespread, with cases occurring throughout the state. Health officials say that it expects new cases to develop at least through April.
Getting the flu vaccine significantly decreases the chances of catching influenza and helps prevent its public spread.