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MN Department of Health urges action to limit influenza this winter

BEMIDJI -- A year after hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalizations because of influenza, health officials are reminding the public to get vaccinated.

“The first thing we do is recommend everyone get their flu shot,” said Cynthia Borgen, Beltrami County Public Health Director. “Last year was a really bad year. We had a lot of deaths in the state and in the country, especially among the elderly.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, during the 2017-18 flu season, there were 435 deaths from the flu, with 6,446 hospitalizations. Those numbers were an increase from the 2016-17 season, which saw 273 deaths and 3,695 hospitalizations.

The health department recommends everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine on an annual basis. Those most at risk for the flu, according to MDH, include people age 65 and older, children younger than 2 years old, pregnant women and individuals with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

“The whole thing about shots is that herd mentality,” Borgen said. “There are some people who can’t get a different variety of flu shots, but if everyone else around them have the shots, it helps to keep the prevalence of the disease down. Flu shots also don’t ever cause the flu. Adverse reactions from the shots are very, very low. That’s not an area where we see those issues.”

Throughout the flu season, typically lasting from October through April, health officials also recommend following basic practices.

“It’s about taking care of yourself, washing your hands, covering your cough and staying home when you’re sick,” Borgen said. “Those are the typical things. Get rest and have plenty of fluids.”

When considering seeing a doctor about flu symptoms, Borgen also said it can be beneficial to call ahead of time.

“Most people who have insurance have a nurse line they can call, and it’s worth talking to someone about whether or not you need to go in,” Borgen said. “If you have something viral and it’s mild, we don’t want the doctor to give you medicine because we’re working hard on not creating antibiotic-resistant diseases.”

Along with the flu, Borgen said the public should be mindful of other respiratory illnesses over the winter months.

“Pneumonia is certainly one that can be very serious for adults,” Borgen said. “There is a whole range of respiratory diseases that people can be exposed to and can succumb to, especially over the winter.”

The MDH website, http://www.health.state.mn.us, has a section designed to track the flu in the state and releases a weekly report on the subject.

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