Updated: 01/02/2013 7:46 AM KSTP.com By: Naomi Pescovitz
Many Minnesotans are dealing with an unwanted gift this holiday season, the flu. Doctors offices and hospitals are keeping busy right now, taking care of patients with respiratory viruses and flu related symptoms. The flu is hitting harder and earlier than in the past few years.
"We are seeing widespread influenza in Minnesota at this point; our numbers for influenza are higher than they've been at any time in the recent past," said Dr. Stephen Swanson, medical director of the Inpatient Pediatric Unit at Hennepin County Medical Center.
Urgent care centers in the Metro have been busy as well. Express Healthcare in Blaine started seeing a bump in sick traffic about 10 days ago.
"Usually flu season kicks off mid to late January into February, and now we are seeing it starting out right before Christmas," said Dr. Matt Mesnik, President of Express Healthcare.
"Because the last two years before this were relatively mild for influenza, it might account for why we are having more influenza this year because people's immunity is less," Swanson said.
Many school-aged children will return from their winter breaks this week and doctors recommend using common sense to avoid catching the bug. Hand washing, covering your cough and regularly cleaning surfaces is a good start.
However, the best defense is the flu vaccine. Swanson says flu season can go into April or May so it is not to late to get the shot.
"The flu shot doesn't always keep a child from getting the flu, but if they've had the vaccine, they are much less likely to end up in the emergency room or being hospitalized," Swanson said.