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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Health officials urge flu shots as flu activity increases

Flu activity is increasing in the state, and health officials remind all Minnesotans it's not too late to get their flu shot. The flu season can last through April, so getting a flu vaccine now will provide protection for the rest of the season. Health officials recommend that everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year.

Weekly flu statistics being released today by the Minnesota Department of Health show the state's flu status has been elevated from local to regional geographic spread. This means certain areas of the state have seen more flu outbreaks or increases in flu-like illness or lab-confirmed cases of flu. With flu activity increasing in neighboring states as well, health officials expect cases to continue to go up in the coming weeks.

National early season flu vaccination rates released in November by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that only 40 percent of people ages 6 months and older had received their flu vaccine. These estimates show a large portion of the population is vulnerable to flu as activity continues to increase across the country.

"Start the new year on the right foot by making sure you and your family get your flu vaccine," said Kris Ehresmann, director of the Infectious Disease Division at the Minnesota Department of Health. "The more people who are vaccinated, the more protection we'll have in the community to slow or stop the spread, especially to those at high risk for complications from flu."

Flu can be a serious, life-threatening illness, even for otherwise healthy people. CDC data show that about half of children hospitalized with flu over the last several years did not have an underlying medical condition.

Parents who got the nasal spray vaccine for their child in the past should get them a flu shot this year. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended this year because it was found to not be effective at preventing flu over the three previous flu seasons.

"We know people may be disappointed that they have to get a shot, but the shot is the recommended option this year," said Ehresmann. "The small poke is far better than being sick with flu and missing days or weeks of school, work or other activities."  

The main flu strain circulating this season is influenza A (H3N2). Adults 65 and older are usually affected more in seasons where H3N2 is the dominant strain. People in this age group may feel young and healthy, but as we age our immune system has a harder time fighting off the flu. That's why getting a flu vaccine is really important for this age group.

Pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions are also at high risk for complications from flu and should get vaccinated. 
Ehresmann noted that this year's flu vaccine appears to be a good match for the viruses circulating.

You can find a flu vaccine clinic near you at mdhflu.com (select "Vaccine Clinic Look-Up"). Flu vaccine also may be given at other locations and times not listed. Check with your doctor's office, regular walk-in clinic or pharmacy about getting vaccinated against the flu.

Flu vaccines are covered by most insurance plans as a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. However, it is a good idea to call ahead if you have switched plans or are unsure of your coverage. If you don't have insurance, the Minnesota Vaccines for Children program and the Uninsured and Underinsured Adult Vaccine program provide free or low-cost vaccines.

The symptoms of flu, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should seek medical care. See When to Get Medical Help for Flu Symptoms.

For more information on flu and flu vaccine, visit mdhflu.com.

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