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2 of nation's 20 flu-related children's deaths were in Minnesota

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Minnesota public health officials and doctors on Wednesday are meeting at South Central College in North Mankato to discuss this winter's deadly flu outbreak, Fox 9 reports.

The number of young people who have died of flu-related illnesses nationwide has risen to 20, including two teenagers who have died in Minnesota in the last few weeks. Five people total have died of influenza-related ailments and at least 600 have been hospitalized in the state since the season began last fall.

The family and friends of 14-year-old Carly Christenson are mourning the death of the otherwise healthy girl, who died Tuesday after a two-week bout with flu-related illness. The school held a large counseling session in the gym Wednesday and her friends are rallying around each other, the Associated Press reported.

In another case, a healthy Texas 17-year-old, Max Schwolert, visiting the Midwest from Texas, died of flu-related complications Dec. 29 at a St. Paul hospital.

Generally, it's relatively rare that children die from the flu, although of those who do die, nearly half are otherwise healthy, the CDC reported in a study released at an infectious diseases conference last year. In an eight-year span from 2004 to 2012, 829 children 18 and younger nationwide died of flu-related illnesses, according to the CDC study.

On average, during the last 30 years, there were two deaths per million in children who get the flu, Anne Valaas-Turner, a pediatrician with Allina Health, told KSTP, citing CDC data.

"The flu is more dangerous to children with underlying health issues," Valaas-Turner said.

She suggests parents get a child to the doctor when the child is lethargic, having a hard time breathing, are not able to keep fluids down or not urinating.

Minnesota Department of Health officials urge all Minnesotans to get flu shots, which they say is the best way to avoid getting the virus. And with a few months left to go, it's not too late in the season to get the vaccination, they add.

Nationwide, government health experts say the flu is worse than normal this season, having started earlier and covering a broader region of the country, USA Today reported. More than 2,200 people were hospitalized with flu symptoms through the end of 2012, the newspaper reported.

In its latest report on nationwide influenza, issued Dec. 29, the CDC said 29 states, including Minnesota, are now reporting "high activity."

Minnesota hospitals are fretting over the spike in flu-related cases. Space is scarce at the 150-bed Fairview Ridges hospital in Burnsville, Patch reports. Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming also reported an emergency room full of flu patients and increased wait times, the Forest Lake Times reports.

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