Flu cases increase dramatically in North DakotaThe North Dakota Department of Health today announced a total of 1,077 cases of influenza have been reported in the state. That's significantly more than the total 625 cases reported last week.
By: Matt Cory, Grand Forks Herald
Flu season is in full swing in Grand Forks and the region.
A total of 1,077 cases of influenza have been reported in North Dakota, the state health department said Wednesday. That’s a 72 percent increase over the 625 total from the prior week.
Officials also said Wednesday that the death of a 14-year-old St. Louis Park, Minn., girl has been attributed to the flu, the fifth such death in Minnesota since flu season started in October. More than 900 have been hospitalized in Minnesota, and some health care facilities are limiting visiting hours to reduce chances of exposure.
North Dakota has had one fatality, an elderly person in the northeast region reported in December. A total of 52 have been hospitalized.
Nationwide, health officials also are reporting more and more cases of influenza earlier than usual. While anyone can get the flu, it is often most serious for the elderly and the very young, officials said. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, sore throat and a cough.
Altru Health System in Grand Forks has seen an increase in patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms, said Dr. James Hargreaves, Altru’s infectious disease specialist. “We’ve been very busy with flu,” he said, with the latest uptick starting in about mid-December.
But the reported cases are only a sliver of the number of people who actually have influenza in the state, said Lindsey VanderBusch, influenza surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health. Many people just stay home and treat themselves, she said. Doctors also will diagnosis influenza without running a test, which is what is reported to the state, she said.
Flu season typically peaks in about a six to eight week period, most often in February and March, VanderBusch said. And while earlier than normal, it is not out of character to have various outbreaks occur beforehand, she said.
“I definitely don’t think we’ve hit our peak yet,” she said.
The best defense is still the flu vaccine, several health officials said Wednesday, and there is no shortage of supply.
Both Altru and Grand Forks Public Health have flu shots available, as do some private pharmacies. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, VanderBusch said.
Here are some other tips from the state health department:
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Hand washing remains one of the best ways to prevent influenza, as well as many other infectious diseases.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing.
• Stay home from work, school or recreational activities if you’re ill.
How to get your flu vaccine
The Grand Forks Public Health Department and Altru Health System offer the flu vaccine, as do some private pharmacies. Here’s some basic info:
• Grand Forks Public Health: Flu shots are available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mondays to Fridays, on the third floor of the county office building, 151 S. Fourth St. No appointment need. Cost is $37.
• Altru Health System: Altru Family Medicine Center, 1380 S. Columbia Road, will hold walk-in flu shot clinics on Jan. 17, Jan. 29 and Jan. 31. Times are 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. The clinics are for patients 18 years and older. Cost was not available.
Call Cory at (701) 780-1244; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1244; or send email to email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.