Time to break out the face masks – state health officials say flu season is in "full swing."
As Minnesota's flu season climbs towards its peak, more flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are possible, the Minnesota Department of Health said in a news release on Thursday.
As of last week, the first pediatric death in Minnesota due to this season's influenza season was reported, the department said. It comes along with 1,765 flu-related hospitalizations, 55 outbreaks of influenza-like illness in long-term care facilities, and 43 outbreaks in schools.
They say all these indicators point to a "potentially severe flu season." (If you're curious to see how the numbers have climbed, weekly flu data is available here.)
Should you get a vaccine?
If you're asking the Minnesota Department of Health, the answer is yes. They've been urging people to get their shots since at least January.
“Now is the time to get your flu vaccine if you have not already,” Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health said in the release. “Even otherwise-healthy people can become very sick from flu, and we still have a lot of flu season left. Flu can easily circulate through April and beyond.”
The flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older and health officials say it's especially important for young children, older adults and others at higher risk for complications from the flu – like pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions.
The main flu strain circulating so far this season in Minnesota and the U.S. is called H3N2.
Flu symptoms, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue.
Why aren't people getting vaccinated?
The arguments for getting the vaccine are pretty weighted. Health officials say we should get it, workplaces are like petri dishes, and having the flu sucks.
Yet data released in November revealed that only 40 percent of Americans got their annual flu vaccine.
Several studies in recent years have tried to figure out why, and some have found intriguing answers. Millennials don't get flu shots because they don't think it will prevent them from getting the flu. Parents aren't vaccinating babies because they don't realize how dangerous the flu can be. And something called the "third-person effect" has people convinced they're too wise to fall for the media campaigns advocating for the vaccine.
Then there are rumors that the vaccine is not effective this year – which Ehresmann said are misleading.
“It is too early for us to know what the flu vaccine effectiveness is for the U.S., and we can’t make predictions based on what happened in other countries like Australia because it’s not an equal comparison," she said.
Ehresmann noted that even in a perfectly matched year, the vaccine will not prevent every case of flu. However, more people being vaccinated means more protection in the community so the spread of flu can be limited.
You can find a flu vaccine clinic near you here.