Fourth child dies from flu as health officials say virus is still 'widespread'

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The current flu season has claimed the life of a fourth child in Minnesota, as health officials say the virus remains "widespread" across the state.

In its latest weekly update, the Minnesota Department of Health says four pediatric flu-related deaths have been identified this season.

It comes just over a month after 17-year-old Owatonna senior Shannon Zwanziger became the first under-18 to die as a result of a flu-related illness this season.

Figures for the week up to Jan. 3 show that hospitalizations relating to flu fell compared to previous weeks, down to 33, most of which were in central Minnesota.

But WCCO suggests that figures for the current week could show a spike in flu cases as children return to school following the Christmas holidays.

The graph above shows that confirmed outbreak cases in schools spiked in the weeks leading up to the school break, an unprecedented rise compared to previous years.

January is typically the worst time for flu, but health officials have said the number of hospitalizations seen from October onwards suggests this flu season will be particularly harsh.

MPR reported that the Department of Health expects this flu season to be the worst in recent years, exceeding the number of cases seen in the last severe season in 2012/13.

That season saw 3,068 people across the state hospitalized with flu, and so far this year there have been 944 hospitalizations, according to the MDH figures.

The flu season is believed to be more severe this year because of the strain of virus that is proving the most dominant, with the Centers for Disease Control saying the H3N2 strain is less affected by the flu vaccine and is a more dangerous strain for the young and the elderly.

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