Flu tightens grip on Minnesota, where 3 children have died

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A nasty flu outbreak did not pause to revel in the holiday spirit in Minnesota.

For the week ending Dec. 27, nearly 200 people were hospitalized with flu-related illnesses in the state, where the flu is considered "widespread,"according to a new report released Wednesday from the Minnesota Department of Health.

That's a total of 577 hospitalizations this flu season, which began in October. And that puts the state on pace for a nasty flu season compared to recent years, health officials say.

"When I think back to the most recent exceptionally severe flu season, that was 2012-2013, and what we're seeing this year is worse than that and occurring much earlier," Kris Ehresmann, director of epidemiology for the state health department, told MPR News.

Ehresmann also noted that on Monday, Minnesota clinics sent the state's public health lab 289 specimens for flu testing, which is an all-time daily record.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics have had 748 lab-confirmed cases of flu, and nearly 100 children have been hospitalized there for it, Patsy Stinchfield, director of infection control and prevention, told the Star Tribune.

“I’ve never seen a December like this,” she told the newspaper.

Nationwide, 15 children have died as the result of flu-related illnesses, three in Minnesota.

Among them was Shannon Zwanziger, an active 17-year-old from Owatonna who was rarely sick, described by her mother Gwen as a "perfect kid." Gwen told CNN that Shannon on Dec. 9 had managed to get out of bed and made her way to the bathroom.

"I helped her get in the bathtub, but when I saw her eyes, I said, 'I think this is a mistake – we've got to get you out of here,' " Gwen told CNN on Wednesday. "She couldn't help me get her out. So I lifted her up, and she passed away in my arms." (A fundraiser for the family is ongoing at Youcaring.com.)

On Tuesday, the CDC announced that the U.S. flu outbreak had crossed the "epidemic" threshold, with 22 states reporting a "high" level of influenza activity, up from 13 the previous week. A new national flu report is due Monday from the CDC.

"At this time, all of CDC's influenza surveillance systems are showing elevated flu activity, indicating that we are in the midst of this season's flu epidemic," the CDC's Erin Burns told USA Today.

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