NEW ULM - Influenza is keeping local medical practitioners busy, according to Dr. Joan Krikava, chief of Medical Staff at the New Ulm Medical Center.
The hospital and clinic reported 50 positive cases of influenza in December, Krikava said Thursday. The clinic has stopped testing people who come there with flu-like symptoms, just assuming it is the flu. Emergency room and hospital cases, however, are still tested.
"We have six patients in the hospital who have tested positive for influenza," said Krikava. "For a town our size, that's a lot. We have had 100 extra patients coming to the clinic every day for the past week, and our walk-in clinic in the evening is the same, about half again as many visitors, all with flu-like symptoms."
Sore throats, headaches and fevers are the most common symptoms of the flu, said Krikava. The disease hits hardest those patients who have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, the elderly and the very young, said Krikava.
The best defense against influenza is a flu shot, said Krikava.
"This year's vaccine is actually a very good match for the A and B flu strains that are making the rounds," said Krikava. Vaccine manufacturers try to anticipate which type of flu will be most prevalent, and the vaccine will protect against six to eight different strains, she said.
It is still possible to get the flu, even with a flu shot.
"The vaccine is not 100 percent protective," said Krikava, "but a flu shot gives you a much better chance of avoiding the flu. If you don't get a shot, you have no protection."
Flu shots are still available at New Ulm Medical Center, and at area pharmacies.
The flu season typically peaks in February, said Krikava. "If this is an early peak, it could die down in three weeks or so. But if it is the beginning of something bigger, this could go on through January and into February."
New Ulm schools are not seeing a great deal of absences in the few days since school started up this week.
"We saw more absences before the holiday," said Scott Hogen, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for District 88. "The Friday before the holidays we had enough absences at Jefferson Elementary that it triggered a report to the Minnesota Department of Health. But since school started up again we've had seven to 10 kids calling in sick each day."
Schools must report their absences if the absentee rate reaches 5 percent, or if three or more students in the same classroom are sick, Hogen said.
Kim Giesen, the school nurse with New Ulm Area Catholic Schools, said the number of students with confirmed flu diagnoses triggered a report on Dec. 11 for St. Anthony's Elementary. The number of absences has come down since then, but there are still confirmed cases of flu or flu-like symptoms in the elementary school and at Cathedral High School.