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Sixty Flu-Related Deaths Now Reported In Minnesota

More than 1,800 hospitalized, according to the latest statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health

Sixty Flu-Related Deaths Now Reported In Minnesota Sixty Flu-Related Deaths Now Reported In Minnesota

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.

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 this flu season, with 92 reported last week.

A 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.

Updated 5 p.m. Jan. 11: During this weekend's Catholic masses at Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie, signs of peace and wine distribution from communal chalices will, for now, go on as normal. 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.

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This flu season is proving brutal in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is now reporting 27 deaths in the state, including 23 that officials have been able to confirm as flu-related since Dec. 30. One of those deaths was Carly Christenson from St. Louis Park.

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.

Related: Flu Rates Skyrocket: Where to Get Flu Shots in Eden Prairie

CDC Says Flu Rates Up Across Minnesota: Where to Get Flu Shots in Eden Prairie

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 that 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. However, the list of victims includes two otherwise healthy teens: Max Schwolert, 17, and  Carly Christenson, a 14-year-old St. Louis Park girl who died Tuesday.

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.  

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 if you're an 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.

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

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