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Flu hospitalizations down slightly, but flu activity still high across Minnesota

MDH reports only 33% of Minnesotans have received a flu shot this season.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A new weekly report from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows flu activity in Minnesota remains high, though several key metrics are down from last week.

According to the report released Thursday, 501 people were hospitalized in Minnesota with the flu for the week ending Dec. 3. That's a decline of 58 hospitalizations from a week earlier. MDH said a total of 1,857 patients have been hospitalized with the flu so far this year.

The department said a total of 28 deaths have been attributed to the flu so far this year, with an average age of 79 years old.

"We are still seeing cases of influenza increase, so the activity is still increasing," said Melissa McMahon, senior epidemiologist with MDH. "We're seeing a little bit of a slowdown in schools — in school outbreaks, which it's a little too soon to say. That could just potentially be that schools had a few days off over the Thanksgiving holiday, which just slowed things down a little."

Respiratory illnesses, including both influenza and RSV, continue to be a concern in Minnesota schools. MDH reported 76 new outbreaks of "influenza-like illness" in Minnesota schools for the week ending Dec. 3; that's about half the number of new outbreaks (142) reported a week earlier. Flu-like illness outbreaks have been reported at 782 Minnesota schools so far this year.

RSV hospitalizations have also declined for the fourth consecutive week, according to MDH data, with the bulk of the hospitalized patients being age four or younger.

Influenza vaccination rates remain lower than usual; earlier this week, MDH reported only 33% of Minnesotans have gotten flu shots this season. According to CDC's FluVaxView, Minnesota had a 57.7% vaccination rate for the 2021-2022 season. While numbers will go up as we're only at midseason, MDH said it's unlikely we'll see a large uptick in flu vaccine for the rest of the season. 

"We do usually see higher rates than this. There could be a lot of reasons for that. I think a lot of people skipped flu shots over the pandemic," McMahon said. "Flu is back in a big way this year. So we are recommending if you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, it's not too late."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year's flu shot appears to be a "very good match" for circulating strains. 

"Even when the efficacy isn't as high as it could be in other years, it's still more effective than not getting the flu shot. So it's still kind of the best tool in the toolkit," McMahon said. 

For those who have already had the flu this season, McMahon said a flu shot is still a good idea as it protects against four different strains. 

Find a flu vaccine provider near you, here

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