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Paynesville Press - January 1, 2003

Minnesota records first influenza case

Minnesota's first laboratory culture-confirmed flu case of the 2002-03 season has been reported in a two-month old boy from Hennepin County, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

MDH officials are stressing, however, that it's still not too late to get a flu shot. And, unlike the past two years, there are still ample supplies of flu vaccine in the state this year.

"In a typical year, we may not see widespread influenza activity for up to several weeks after the first handful of cases are reported to us," said Dr. Harry Hull, state epidemiologist. "There's still time to get immunized, and it's especially important that you get a flu shot if you're in a high-risk group or live with a person with a high-risk condition."

People over 65, people with chronic illnesses, and people with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk, according to Dr. Hull. "People in these groups can end up in the hospital - or even die - if they get the flu."

This year, for the first time, the department is also recommending that healthy children 6-23 months be vaccinated against the flu when possible. Recent studies have found that children in that age range are as likely as people over 65 to be hospitalized for complications from influenza.

The infant diagnosed with this year's first case was infected with Influenza A, a New Caledonia-like strain that is one of the strains included in this year's vaccine. He was hospitalized for several days and is now doing fine.

The flu vaccine has to be reformulated every year to cover those strains of the virus that are most likely to be circulated during the upcoming flu season. Because the flu virus tends to change significantly over time, people in high-risk groups are routinely advised to get a flu shot every fall.

Those most at risk of complications from influenza include:

  • Anyone 65 years of age or older.
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
  • Anyone over six months of age with chronic condition of the heart, circulatory system or respiratory system, including asthma.
  • Anyone over six months of age who has been hospitalized or required ongoing medical attention during the past year for a chronic metabolic disorder (such as diabetes), kidney problems, a blood disorder, or immune system problems (such as HIV infection, or an immune system suppressed by medication, chemotherapy or radiation treatment).
  • Children and teenagers who are receiving ongoing medical treatment with aspirin, which could place them at risk of developing a serious condition known as Reye's Syndrome if they get the flu.
  • Healthy children 6-23 months.
  • Women who will be in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy during flu season.

In addition, the following should also should receive the flu vaccine: anyone having close contact with any of those mentioned above; people 50-64 years of age; and health care workers.

While it is important for people in the high-risk groups to get their flu shots, MDH officials said, anyone wishing to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill from influenza should take advantage of the ample supplies of vaccine this year.

The symptoms of influenza - which tend to come on suddenly - can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with influenza-like symptoms should see a physician.

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