Flu becoming more widespread; 71 hospitalizations last week

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The Minnesota Department of Health says there were 71 new flu-related hospitalizations during the week that ended Saturday, 20 more than the week prior, according to the latest flu report.

The Pioneer Press points out that MDH reported just 36 flu hospitalizations in the state during the week ended Dec. 21, but that value was adjusted as more reports came in.

So far, there have been 189 hospitalizations during the 2013-14 flu season. No child deaths have been reported. Minnesota Public Radio noted that the state health department isn't tracking flu-related deaths among adults because of funding cuts.

MPR reports that flu cases are now being reported in every geographic region of the state, nearly tripling clinic visits for influenza-like illnesses last week.

"We would expect hospitalizations to continue to increase and once kids get back to school after winter break we expect to see more outbreaks of influenza-like illness in schools, and probably some in long-term care facilities as well," MDH epidemiologist Karen Martin told MPR.

Although state health officials consider the flu to be widespread in Minnesota, the state is still in much better shape compared to the state's 2012-13 severe flu season. During the same time period last year, there were 382 hospitalizations.

Martin says it's still too early to determine whether the flu season will be mild or severe. She advises that people take necessary precautions to prevent the spread of flu like getting vaccinated, washing hands and staying home when sick.

The flu is spreading quickly in the southern half of the country. In North Carolina, 13 people have died of complications from the flu, prompting hospitals to limit visitors to protect patients.

So far, "it's a typical influenza season, if I can use that word," Dr. Michael Jhung, a medical officer in the Centers for Disease Control's flu division, told CNN.

CDC says four pediatric flu deaths have been reported in the country since Sept. 29. The agency does not track adult deaths.

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