Updated 6 p.m. Jan. 31:
Influenza killed 36 more Minnesotans last week, bringing the total number of state deaths in the current outbreak to 112.
But the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) weekly flu update, released this afternoon, also reported that the number of people across the state newly hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza dropped to 135, down from 208 the previous week and a big drop from the 476 hospitalized the week before.
A total of 2,367 Minnesotans have have been hospitalized since the current outbreak began.
According to a Minneapolis Public Radio report, officials now believe it's safe to say the outbreak is waning.
Kris Ehresmann, director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at MDH, said it's unlikely the state could see a second peak in influenza activity, as it did during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.
"That is very unusual, so we're hoping that because we're seeing a slowdown in activity (now), that means that the activity will remain slow now until the end of the season."
Across the state, eight long-term care facilities and 36 schools reported outbreaks of influenza during the Jan. 20-26 period. Since the start of the season, there have been 134 outbreaks of influenza in long-term care facilities and 412 outbreaks in schools.
Jan. 25, 2013:
Influenza killed 15 more Minnesotans last week, bringing the total number of state deaths in the current outbreak to 75--more than the total number of state residents killed during the last big outbreak during 2009-10.
But the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) weekly flu update, released Thursday afternoon, also contained good news: Only 208 people across the state were newly hospitalized last week with laboratory-confirmed influenza, a big drop from the 476 hospitalized the previous week.
MDH spokesman Doug Schultz told WCCO that it will be another week before officials know for sure where the flu season has peaked in Minnesota. But he added that trends are pointing in that direction.
For example, there were only nine confirmed outbreaks in long-term care facilities last week; there were more than 50 the week before.
Jan. 18, 2013:
The influenza outbreak of 2012-13 has now killed 60 Minnesotans and hospitalized 1,842, according to information released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
The department’s second weekly report on the flu outbreak more than doubles the number of reported deaths in the state; which totaled 27 last week.
The total number of deaths is now nearly as high as that of the outbreak of 2009-10, which killed 67 Minnesotans. The number of flu-related hospitalizations actually exceeds the total of 2009-10.
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.
The department’s latest report also showed that flu has struck a total of 107 skilled nursing facilities in the state, as well as 254 schools.
In District 196, several school continue to report outbreaks. On Monday, Apple Valley's Cedar Park and Greenleaf Elementary Schools, as well as Rosemount Elementary, all had three or more cases of flu in single classrooms. Also Monday, Dakota Ridge, the special-education facility in Apple Valley, reported 5 percent absences due to the outbreak.
On Thursday, an early-childhood classroom at Woodland Elementary School in Eagan reported more than three cases of students out with flu-like symptoms.
Eagan High School has certainly felt the effects of the flu epidemic, according to licensed school nurse Kathleen Hook.
Flu cases at the high school peaked last Friday, Hook said, when roughly 1 percent of the student population at the high school was either absent or dismissed from attendance.
While the number of flu cases has declined considerably since then, she said, but added that many of the cases have been unusually hard-hitting.
"I would say this is a pretty severe strain," Hook said. "I see people who are sicker, the fevers were higher and I’m seeing a higher rate of complications."
A handful of students have contracted pneumonia as a complication of the flu, and several students have been hospitalized, Hook said.
Jan. 12, 2013:
More than 1,000 Minnesotans have been hospitalized and more than two dozen have died, but the state's flu outbreak may get still worse before it gets better.
So says John Hick, an emergency physician at Hennepin County Medical Center, who told USA TODAY that the speed of the flu’s spread in Minnesota “has been pretty much unparalleled.”
The MDH on Thursday reported 27 deaths in the state, including 23 that officials have been able to confirm as flu-related since Dec. 30. Hick thinks the sudden uptick could be due to people returning from holiday travel and children going back to school.
"My general sense is that we have not peaked," Hick added. "We've probably got a few weeks to go on this."
That leaves workers throughout the state pondering what to do when they start feeling ill. Many go to the office even when they're sick because they are worried about losing their jobs, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an employer consulting firm.
Other employees, according to an Associated Press story, report for work out of financial necessity, since roughly 40 percent of U.S. workers don't get paid if they are out sick. On the other hand, some simply have a strong work ethic and feel obligated to show up.
Flu season typically costs employers $10.4 billion for hospitalization and doctor's office visits, according to the AP report. That does not include the costs of lost productivity from absences.
Severe though it is, MDH officials said Thursday that there is no evidence 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.”
As a result, mamy institutions are carrying on as normal. At Catholic Masses in Minnesota, for example, the "signs of peace" and wine distribution from communal chalices will, for now, not be altered.
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, but, "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 because of flu concerns was in 2009, when the rapid spread of the H1N1 strain prompted many of the nations 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.