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Some suffering from flu at TCHC; Hospital has enough vaccine

As of Tuesday, three people had been hospitalized at Tri-County Health Care (TCHC) with influenza so far this flu season, said Kathy Kleen, TCHC's chief nursing officer.

Kleen also said the past week saw approximately 100 people seeking care for influenza-like symptoms at the hospital and its branch locations, with activity increasing as last week went on, but leveling off during Monday and Tuesday.

As a veteran of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, Kleen was reluctant to speculate on how much longer this new round of infections would continue to affect the Wadena area.

"This would be way too early to say ... that it's over," Kleen said. "It's still quite early in the flu season."

Dr. John Pate, medical director at TCHC, pointed out that the influenza vaccine was effective, according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control) data. If it hadn't been, he said, the outbreak could have been much more severe.

"The CDC analysis of flu specimens that are sent in to them indicates that the flu vaccine does match the vaccine components for Influenza A," Pate said. "If it didn't match at all, it's very possible that the influenza outbreak that we have would have been a lot worse."

Pate said measuring the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine involves taking data from across the entire nation, and it would be difficult to gauge the vaccine's potency from a local standpoint.

Wadena is vulnerable to the flu epidemic, since people have an increased ability to travel in modern times, Pate said.

"Being located here in central Minnesota doesn't help us a lot," Pate said. "If we were to move to the far north, someplace where we were in a cabin by ourselves ... we'd probably be protected."

The severity of this year's flu season could be attributed to the predominance of an influenza strain called H3N2, to which people have generally not been exposed to before, Kleen and Pate said.

Kleen said TCHC is taking special care to stay well-supplied with vaccine, with daily team meetings being held to discuss the latest disease activity and the status of the hospital's vaccine stockpile.

"Anyone who wants a flu shot, we have adequate vaccine," Kleen said.

She added that this year was a welcome contrast to the vaccine shortages of the 2009 epidemic.

"That was a very difficult position to be in," Kleen said. "(I'm) totally relieved that we are not in that situation at this point."

Kleen and Pate offered a variety of advice on how to avoid catching the flu. They suggest washing hands, getting plenty of rest and fluids, staying an arm's length away from people if possible and making sure to stay home from work if you become sick.

In a press release sent to the Pioneer Journal, TCHC gave additional advice on how to spot flu symptoms and what to do in extreme cases.

"The symptoms of influenza, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue," the release said. "It is important that children and adults who have symptoms that continue to get worse, such as trouble breathing, bluish or gray skin color, severe or persistent vomiting, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness or confusion, become lethargic or have an inability to drink fluids, get medical care immediately."