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As COVID-19 ramps up, Minnesota's flu season appears to be slackening

Hospitalizations fell for the fourth week in a row.
Cold flu

As health providers brace for growing numbers of coronavirus patients, it appears as though Minnesota's flu season is winding down.

The number of flu-related hospitalizations fell for the fourth week in a row in Minnesota, with 72 hospitalized in the week ending Mar. 21, a significant drop on the 185 hospitalized the week before.

At its peak in late February, more than 450 people were hospitalized with the flu in a single week.

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Though hospitalized-confirmed cases of flu has been dropping, it's possible that the figures have also fallen because more people are treating their symptoms at home in case they've gotten coronavirus. 

The Minnesota Department for Health says it's also received reports that there may be a shortage of resources for flu testing.

"We have seen a dramatic drop in influenza activity recently, but it’s impossible to know how much of this is related to a decrease in testing versus a decrease in influenza disease," a spokeswoman for MDH said.

"The measures being taken by Minnesotans to prevent the spread of COVID are also very effective methods of decreasing the spread of influenza, but we have also heard that resources for some flu testing are becoming scarce."

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In total, there have been almost 4,000 flu-related hospitalizations so far this season, but there have been fewer deaths than in three of the past six years.

There have been 135 flu-related deaths this flu season in Minnesota, three of which were children. Just 95 died last year from the flu, but 440 died in the worst recent flu season, in 2017-18.

The reducing impact of influenza will help lessen some of the strain on the state's hospital system which is expecting a major impact from the coronavirus.

Minnesota health officials have previously said that researchers will be using flu trends to determine how widespread the coronavirus is in Minnesota.

If confirmed cases of influenza are going down but respiratory complaints to medical providers are going up, it's suggestive that COVID-19 is more widespread than official figures suggest.

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