Current Flu Season Hitting Younger Minnesotans Harder Than Normal

Updated: 01/17/2014 1:01 PM By: Stephen Tellier

The flu season is here.

After starting slow, it's now widespread throughout the state of Minnesota. Although over the last week, the numbers of hospitalizations actually dropped to 186. That's down from 195 the week before.

And according to the Minnesota Health Department, we're far lower than last year. Last year, during this same week, there were nearly 570 hospitalizations.

But there is a major difference with who this year's flu is impacting.

The very old and the very ill -- those are typically the folks who get hit hardest during flu season. But this season is a bit different.

"We always get nervous about influenza because it is very unpredictable," said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious diseases expert with Allina Health.

Rhame said this season, Minnesota is seeing younger flu patients with serious symptoms.

"The young people that get it who are previously healthy, they get primary influenza pneumonia. For whatever reason, that influenza just keeps on going and it doesn't stop," Rhame said.

Take a look at last flu season in Minnesota by age group -- more than half of all flu hospitalizations occurred in folks 65 and older. This season, the number of hospitalizations is more evenly spread among all age groups, with middle-aged Minnesotans getting hit almost as hard as the 65-plus age group.

Rhame said it's because this year, H1N1 is particularly potent.

That outbreak that occurred in 2009 was really quite skewed toward younger people because they had had no H1N1 experience," Rhame said.

And he said that's still the case -- older people have been exposed to similar strains in the past.

"Young people always seem to be affected because they almost never have immunological experience with a new strain," Rhame said.

In addition, the young are less likely to have received the flu vaccine.

Still, age is just one factor here. The strength of your immune system is the other big one.

"Anything that makes you weaker overall will also make influenza worse in you when you get it," Rhame said.

Rhame said it's still not too late to get your flu shot.

The flu is widespread across the U.S. The hardest hit areas are in the south and out west. Minnesota is one of 35 states where the flu is widespread.