HIBBING — Flu activity is beginning to pick up around the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as of Dec. 1, influenza was considered widespread in five states.

In Minnesota, flu is being spread at the local level. A total of 26 people were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed flu cases last week. About 70 people in the state have been hospitalized since the start of the flu season, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s weekly influenza and respiratory activity statistics report. In an average flu season, about 500 Minnesotans will be hospitalized with the illness.

Currently, flu activity is picking up all over the state — including St. Louis County, said Amy Westbrook, Minnesota Department of Health northeast district epidemiologist.

There have not yet been any reports of outbreaks in schools or nursing homes in the county, but there’s been reports of outbreaks in surrounding counties, she said.

The spread of the flu is starting a little early this year, she said.

The flu season normally peaks in late-February or into March.

The good news is that the majority of the flu now circulating is a good match to this year’s influenza vaccine, Westbrook said.

“I would remind people to get their vaccine if they haven’t already,” she said.

Flu vaccines are available at a wide variety of locations including clinics, community settings, retail pharmacies and work site locations.

“There’s a lot of opportunities out there to still get vaccinated,” she said.

The companies that make the vaccinations decide which strains to cover with the vaccine well before the flu season starts in North America.

The vaccines are developed based on what’s circulating in the rest of the world during flu season in the southern hemisphere, which takes place during their winter but North American summer.

“They have a good idea of what’s circulating before our flu season starts,” she said.

It’s important to get vaccinated every year because the vaccine changes year-to-year due the change in which flu strains are circulating.

Vaccination is recommended for everyone six months or older. Getting vaccinated protects not only you, but also prevents you from passing the illness onto those at risk of serious complications from the flu such as babies, pregnant women, elderly people and those with chronic conditions, according to the MDH website.

In addition to getting vaccinated, it’s also important to wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home if you’re sick to help prevent the spread of the flu, Westbrook said.

The main symptoms of influenza come on quickly and include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, stuffed up nose and body aches.

•••

Protect

yourself

from flu

• Get vaccinated.

• Avoid being exposed to others who are sick with a flu-like illness.

• Clean your hands often — with soap and water or a hand sanitizer.

• Do not share drinking cups and straws.

• Clean commonly touched surfaces often (door knobs, refrigerator handles, phones, water faucets).

Source: Minnesota Department of Health website

•••

If you have the flu

Here’s some tips on what to do if you think yourself or a loved one has the flu:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into your sleeve to avoid spreading the illness.

• Stay home if you are ill.

• Rest and drink lots of fluids.

• Children often need help keeping their fever under control. Follow your child’s doctor’s instructions.

• Take your child to the doctor or the emergency room if he or she:

 — Breathes rapidly or with difficulty

— Has bluish skin color

— Does not drink enough and becomes dehydrated

— Does not wake up or interact with others

— Is so irritable that he or she doesn’t want to be held, or

— Gets better only to become sick again, with fever and a more severe cough

Source: Minnesota Department of Health website

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