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Unusual flu season with 'B' virus dominating

KAAL-TV
Updated: December 20, 2019 06:52 PM
Created: December 20, 2019 06:40 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- Minnesota health officials upgraded the number of cases they are seeing to the highest level, widespread.
 
"This has been an unusual influenza season locally, across the state and the county,” said Dr. Pritish Tosh, Infectious Diseases Physician at Mayo Clinic.
 
Sixty cases of flu-like illnesses were reported to the state last week. That is five times more than the week before. 
 
"Statewide we've had about 262 hospitalizations, six deaths. Here in Olmsted County we've had about ten people hospitalized,” said Leah Espinda-Brandt, Disease Prevention Control and Nurse Manager with Olmsted County Public Health.
 
Dr. Tosh said in a typical year, influenza A is the predominant cause of the flu epidemic. 
 
"What's unusual this year is that the predominant strain has been one of the influenza B viruses,” he said.
 
He said for individual people, the B virus feels just like the A.
 
"When you are looking across the country in broader scopes it tends to be a little less severe, usually resulting in fewer hospitalizations, but it's still a very severe illness. Many, if not most of the influenza deaths we see each year is attributable to influenza B. That's because it tends to stick around longer,” he said.
 
It also tends to spread around children faster. 
 
"It seems to be a little more impactful on children than influenza A. It is always important to remember the flu is serious in children no matter the strain. But with B we tend to see it trend a little more towards kids,” said Jennifer Heath, Supervisor in the Vaccine Preventable Disease Section with the Minnesota Department of Health.
 
Health officials said some schools are missing as many as 20 percent of their students. All flu-related deaths reported in Minnesota this season have been adults. 
 
Dr. Tosh said the best defense is still the flu shot. 
 
"If they haven't gotten their flu shot yet they should do so. Not only for the strain that's circulating now, but as we saw last year we can often see different strains coming in later on in the season,” he said.
 
Espinda-Brandt said when people do catch the flu, they should stick to this simple advice:
 
"Stay home, wash your hands, cover your cough,” she said. 

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