Child is Minnesota's first flu death of the season; state outbreaks reported

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The Minnesota Department of Health reports an unidentified child has died of the flu. It is the first death of Minnesota's 2014 flu season.

The Star Tribune notes word of the child's death comes amid official reports of several new outbreaks across the state. The Health Department's weekly update said 18 Minnesotans were hospitalized with flu symptoms last week, with eight school districts reporting new outbreaks. That is considered typical for this time of year.

Federal health officials have warned that incidences of the flu might rise this year, noting that the current vaccine might be less effective than in previous years.

Despite that, state health officials issued a new advisory to Minnesota doctors and clinics, urging them to encourage patients to get flu shots. The Associated Press advised that even with 60 percent effectiveness, the Health Department says flu vaccine is better than zero protection.

The Pioneer Press notes the flu report comes as National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec. 7-13) approaches. The newspaper said the Minnesota Health Department is participating in the campaign by partnering with local public health agencies and other health care providers to urge Minnesotans to get vaccinated.

"It takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity after getting vaccinated, so you can reduce your chances of getting influenza during the holiday season by getting vaccinated now," said Kris Ehresmann, director of Minnesota's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control division.

Influenza’s severity varies widely from one year to the next, with a shifting composition of flu strains and their effects. The national death toll has ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 annually in recent years.

“Though we cannot predict what will happen the rest of this flu season, it’s possible we may have a season that’s more severe than most,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Thursday briefing.

Flu season begins in late fall and usually peaks between December and February. Symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough and body aches. Most patients recover within a few days, but the flu can produce serious complications in vulnerable patients -- children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

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