It's that time of year again: temperatures are dropping, and flu season is officially underway in Minnesota.
Although the flu can be detected year-round, it's most active in the winter, as the cold, dry weather allows airborne particles containing the virus to spread more easily. Flu season won't reach its peak until February, but health officials are encouraging Minnesotans to get vaccinated now, rather than wait for an outbreak.
The flu has already claimed one life this season, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Throughout the state, 38 flu-related hospitalizations have so far occurred, with the majority of them in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro.
Last year saw 2,543 hospitalizations and 96 deaths (including one child) from flu-related causes. Those numbers were significantly down from the 2017-18 flu season, in which 6,446 people were hospitalized and 446 (including six children) died.
Those most at risk of flu-related death are adults over 65, young children and people with pre-existing health conditions, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
MDH has characterized the current spread of the influenza virus throughout the state as “sporadic.” That's consistent with CDC assessments, which report low seasonal influenza activity throughout the United States.
Though it's too early to know which strain of flu will strike Minnesota, MDH officials say that's no reason to wait to get vaccinated, as the flu shot is the best way to protect against the virus and its potentially serious complications. Most flu vaccines will protect against four different flu viruses.
A list of locations offering free or low-cost vaccinations can be found on the MDH website at health.state.mn.us/people/immunize/basics/vaxfinder.html