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Flu is 'widespread' in Minnesota after sudden spike in mild season

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There haven't been many flu cases in Minnesota this winter, but health officials now say it's "widespread" after a recent spike in the illness.

According to the latest Minnesota Department of Health figures, 72 people were hospitalized because of the flu in the week ending Feb. 20, and MDH now considers the virus to be geographically "widespread" around the state.

The number of cases has been growing in recent weeks, but there have still only been 245 influenza-related hospitalizations this season in Minnesota – none of which have proved fatal.

By the same date in 2015, there had been 4,153 hospitalizations.

It's very likely we're seeing "late start" to flu season, with the Star Tribune reporting similar numbers are being reported across the country. It could be down to Minnesota's warm but wet December, with the virus tending to thrive in dry conditions.

MDH epidemiologist Karen Martin told the newspaper it's not unusual for a late start, with the last one in 2011-12.

"People have short memories, she said. "What we're seeing this year is not out of the realm of normal."

WCCO reports the milder flu season could be due to the flu vaccine being a good match for the predominant strain of the virus seen this year.

Last year, the H3N2 strain proved more resistant to the vaccine which led to more hospitalizations, with the young and elderly particularly at risk.

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