Minnesota’s flu season is off to its mildest start in several years, but state health officials are warning against complacency because the typical peak isn’t for another month.
Hospitals have reported just 58 influenza patients since the start of October, and the state Department of Health is still describing the outbreak as “sporadic.” By comparison, the state was reporting more than 58 cases per week at this point in each of the last three seasons.
At other institutions monitored by state health officials, only four outbreaks have been reported so far in long-term care facilities, and 20 schools have reported outbreaks of influenza-like illness. Schools record outbreaks when 5 percent of students are absent or three students from the same elementary classrooms are out with flu symptoms.
While mild so far, the flu season actually is behaving more like historical patterns and less like the early and atypical flu seasons of recent years, said Kris Ehresmann, who directs vaccination efforts for the state Health Department.
“If this was the end of March, beginning of April and it was still like this, I would say ‘Wow, this is really unusual,’ ” Ehresmann said. “But we’re still in the middle of January. It’s a little too early to say we’re out of the woods.”
The 2014-2015 season was unusual, for example, with influenza hammering an unusually large number of school-aged children and causing 4,153 hospitalizations.
Many Minnesotans also remember the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which started when a new strain of influenza reached the U.S. in the spring of 2009 and spread rapidly in the fall as researchers scrambled to produce a vaccine against it.
Ehresmann said this year’s seasonal vaccine is well-matched to the circulating strains of the virus, and remains in adequate supply — despite a brief shortage of the nasal mist version last fall.
“The good thing about the season,” she said, “is it’s getting people plenty of time to get vaccinated.”