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Maureen McMullen, Published December 28 2013

Number of positive influenza tests spike in ND

FARGO – Though flu season usually peaks between January and March, an increase in cases over the past couple weeks, primarily in the 20- to 40-year-old age group, may indicate an early start to the region’s sickly season.

“This year seems a little more abrupt,” said Dr. Jason Schenck, an emergency medicine physician at Essentia Health in Fargo. “Over the past few days now, we’ve had many positives in the screens, so it’s definitely picked up over the last couple weeks.”

The North Department of Health reported a spike in positive tests for Influenza, jumping from 86 cases Dec. 14 to 165 by Dec. 21.

Of the 165 cases, 35 displayed the same strain of H1N1 that caused 2009’s pandemic.

In Minnesota, 36 flu-related hospitalizations were reported by the Minnesota Department of Health between Dec. 14 and 21 of this year, driving this season’s total up to 104 so far.

Despite the early onset of influenza, both states appear to have fewer cases than last year.

By the end of the 2012-13 flu season, North Dakota’s number of cases totaled 826, which Jill Baber, influenza surveillance coordinator with the North Dakota Department of Health, said appears to be much higher than what’s predicted for this year.

“Last year was kind of an early year, so it could be that we haven’t reached our peak yet,” Baber said. “Also, last year was the biggest year we had on record, so I would hope this year we would have less.”

The Minnesota Department of Health reported a total of 3,086 hospitalizations last year.

Of the hospitalizations, 173 occurred within this week last year, marking a 137-person difference from what was reported from Dec. 14-21 this year.

Dr. Augusto Alonto, chairman of infectious disease at Sanford Health in Fargo, encourages flu vaccination.

“It’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Alonto said. “The flu shot has been shown to decrease the symptoms of the flu. If you do get the flu, it can prevent hospitalization, and it can prevent death.”