Flu is 'widespread' in Minnesotaby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pandemic flu activity in Minnesota is now considered "widespread." That's the highest classification in the agency's flu reporting system.
The Minnesota Health Department says suspected cases of H1N1 influenza have increased significantly across the state. Dozens of schools are reporting absentee rates greater than 5 percent due to the flu.
Health officials have been expecting a big jump in H1N1 cases to coincide with the start of the new school year. They've been asking people to do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus, while the nation waits for pandemic vaccine to be delivered sometime in the next month.
They're also recommending that people get their seasonal flu vaccination as soon as possible, to free up health care workers who will give out the pandemic shots in a few weeks.
Close to 2,000 students and staff members at the University of Minnesota heeded that advice today. Some waited up to an hour to get their seasonal influenza vaccine. The demand for flu shots surprised university health officials, who scrambled to add four extra nurses to reduce waiting times.
The signs leading to the university flu clinic advertised 10-minute waits. But the line of students and staff told a different story. Many of them waited 40 minutes or longer.
"We like lines. But not half-hour lines," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, who directs Boynton Health Services, the campus clinic.
The line snaked down a hallway and around a corner into a cafeteria. Freshman Kate Leuty was in that room near the end of the line.
"It was so surprising to come down all the way down the hall and then through the room," said Leuty. "It just seems like the line never stopped."
Leuty wasn't sure she would stick it out. She had a class that was going to start in less than an hour. But she wasn't annoyed with the situation. Rather, she was impressed that so many of her peers were heeding the advice to get vaccinated against seasonal flu.
"Being in such a big university, there's big chances that everyone can exchange illnesses. So they're just being careful, I would think," she said.
Leuty said even if the timing didn't work out for her on this day, she would be back to get her seasonal flu shot.
On the other end of the line, nurses worked quickly to dispense with a few health questions, before injecting students with the vaccine.
Freshman Kevin Oetliker received his injection, but admitted it wasn't his idea to get a flu shot.
"My mom told me I had to. So I had to come to make her happy," said Oetliker.
University health workers say they have made an extra push this year to encourage people to get their seasonal flu shot, which does not protect against H1N1 pandemic flu. But the H1N1 situation has likely contributed to interest in seasonal flu vaccine.
Dr. Ehlinger says he thinks many students have a new respect for influenza, based on what they're seeing on campus.
"Students probably know somebody who's gotten H1N1 already. We've had cases on campus and we're seeing them in our clinics," said Ehlinger. "So they know somebody in the residence hall, or in the fraternity or sorority, that had to go home because they had the flu. So they're saying, 'If they can get it, I can probably get it too.' So they're planning ahead."
So far the university has treated close to 200 suspected cases of H1N1. And Ehlinger suspects there may be another 100 cases, based on calls to the clinic from sick students.
- All Things Considered, 09/16/2009, 4:54 p.m.