ST. PAUL, Minn. - New data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows just how vigorous this flu season is shaping up to be. Not only did influenza show up earlier than usual it's also on its way to being the worst since the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
In the first two weeks of December 65 people had to be hospitalized for the flu. Within the last two weeks that number has skyrocketed to 226 people. In total nearly 600 people have been hospitalized. So far four Minnesotans have died from it, according to a new report released Thursday.
On Saturday 17-year-old Max Schwolert died from the flu at Regions Hospital. The teenager was from Texas and was visiting family in Wisconsin when he came down with the flu. His sickness quickly turned to pneumonia then a staph infection, and he died four days later. He did not have the flu shot. His death was not included in Minnesota flu data because he is from out of state.
Even those who did get their shots aren't guaranteed a flu free season. Carly Christenson,14, of St. Louis Park was vaccinated against the flu but is currently fighting for her life at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis after catching the flu.
Patsy Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner and the Director of Infectious Disease Division at Children's, said even young and healthy people aren't immune to the flu. She said while it is rare for them to get so sick so fast it does happen.
"Healthy people can get severe influenza and what happens is they will breathe it into their lungs and their immune system tries to attack and the lungs can both fill up with infection, pneumonia and also white blood cells that are just there trying to fight. It can overwhelm the respiratory system, the heart, the kidneys," Stinchfield said.
At Children's alone the hospital admitted 7 patients with influenza on Thursday. Two of them are in the intensive care unit, according to Stinchfield.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated, wash your hands and stay home if you're sick.
(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)