MINNEAPOLIS - The first pediatric death due to this season's influenza season has been reported, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
The flu, which is considered to be widespread, is still climbing to its peak so health officials are reminding Minnesotans to be proactive and get vaccinated.
As of the week ending Jan. 6, MDH reports there have been 1,765 flu-related hospitalizations, 55 outbreaks of flu-like illness in long-term care facilities, 43 outbreaks of flu-like illness in schools and the death of a child. They say all these indicators point to a "potentially severe flu season."
The flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older. This season's dominant flu strain is H3N2 which has been associated with more hospitalizations and deaths in adults 65 years and older, as well as young children.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota and director of the U's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, noted Australia's experience with its flu season four to six months ago during the Southern Hemisphere's winter.
"Australia, among other Southern Hemisphere countries, actually had a major problem with influenza. Very serious outbreaks, and again, the same virus that we're now seeing here. And in that setting, the vaccine had only limited impact, about 10 percent protection. So we anticipated that could be the case here and unfortunately that's exactly what we're finding," Dr. Osterholm said. "The bottom line is it's not the vaccine protection that we need or want."
Osterholm said it's still worth getting a flu shot, as some protection is better than none. He recommends calling ahead of time and finding a place where you will not be stuck in a waiting room full of people who may have the flu.
Meanwhile, Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at MDH, said in a press release, "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."
In a New York Times op-ed published this week, Osterholm writes that we are not ready for an influenza pandemic.
"The holy grail for influenza prevention would be able to vaccinate the world with what we call a universal flu vaccine," Osterholm said. "If you actually look at what most commonly causes human disease, it's H1,2,3,5,7,9. If we could have a vaccine that would just protect against those six strains, and broadly be protective and for a longer period of time, it would absolutely fundamentally change the risk of both seasonal influenza and pandemic influenza."
Symptoms of the flu include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who show symptoms of the flu should seek medical care.