Flu bug is taking its toll

Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton admitted nine patients for the flu in the past few weeks, compared to zero for the same period a year ago.

Fairview Northland medical doctor Randy Olson is pictured in the medical center’s emergency department on January 2.
Fairview Northland medical doctor Randy Olson is pictured in the medical center’s emergency department on January 2.

It is one of the indicators of the flu appearing in the area early this year.

“Fairview Northland is definitely seeing an increase in patients with flu or flu-like symptoms and it is definitely happening earlier than last year,” said Jennifer Cottew, Fairview Northland’s marketing and public relations manager.

Fairview Northland and its combined clinics (Princeton, Milaca, Zimmerman and Elk River) had the following number of flu cases early this winter, with the “influx” starting the week of Dec. 10: Three in the emergency department and 13 flu cases at the clinics that first week. The next week in December the numbers were 14 in the ER and 29 at the clinics, followed by 17 in the ER and 14 in the clinics the third week.


Cottew and Dr. Olson talk

Cottew and Fairview Northland medical doctor Randy Olson sat for an interview about the subject on January 2.

Cottew said that while there are more flu cases here and elsewhere in the state this year compared to last, there are still a number of people who come to the clinics with something that isn’t flu. “I want to feel better,” is what all of them want, and in some cases there is not a lot that medical people can do because it is not the flu that they have, she said.

Some people have stomach and intestinal symptoms and think they have what some have called the stomach flu, but it is not a flu, Cottew said. Flu is a respiratory condition.

Fairview is only running a test for flu on someone if they are admitted to the hospital for flu symptoms, Cottew also noted. Fairview then sends those tests to the state for evaluation.

Approximately 85 percent of the flu cases are the influenza A virus, which this year’s flu serum vaccinates against, Olson said. The rest are influenza B cases, Cottew said.



Olson and Cottew’s advice for slowing the spread of flu was simple and was in three basic areas: Get the flu vaccination, wash your hands regularly, and stay home if you have the flu virus.

Olson called “good hand washing the best defense.” While thorough hand washing with soapy water is not guaranteed to be 100 percent preventative, it is “what we all do in the ED,” Olson said. “And if you’re sick, keep the cold to yourself. Don’t go to work and spread it to others.”

Then Olson added, “the primary prevention is immunization. Both he and Cottew emphasized that it is not too late to get this season’s flu vaccination.

“We encourage everyone to get immunized,” Olson said.

One idea for hand-washing is to do it long enough so that you can sing the Happy Birthday song all the way through. The Minnesota Department of Health’s  website just recommends that the hand washing last 20 seconds. It also recommends that people wash their hands with soapy water after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, before preparing food and before eating to prevent passing around noroviruses that lead to stomach and intestine symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea.

The MDH also recommends more frequent hand washing when someone in the household is sick, and to clean and disinfect household surfaces with bleach solution after vomiting or diarrheal accidents. It suggests not preparing food for others while you have norovirus symptoms.

Cottew added that if a person has a fever, they should not go back to their public workplace or school until being fever-free for 24 hours.



Olson was asked how a person might detect if they have the flu or just a bad cold. The flu symptoms “tend to be worse, with a higher fever, more malaise, and muscle and body aches,” Olson said.

What a person might just have with a cold is a runny nose and a cough, Olson said. But if someone has an “underlying chronic illness, they will get hit harder with either,” he added.

As far as the effects of the flu, most people will end up doing relatively well with it, Olson said. The people with the potential for most trouble are those under a year old, or over 65 and have an underlying disease.

If a person does suspect they have the flu, they should get checked out within 24-48 hours because while treatment doesn’t kill the virus, it will slow the virus replicating itself within the body, Olson noted.

Everyone, meanwhile, can keep their defenses up not just with regular and thorough hand washing, but also with good health practices such as getting proper nutrition, sufficient sleep, and not irritating the mucous membranes, Olson said. One of those irritants is cigarette smoke and dry air is also hard on the mucous membranes, he said.

One more beneficial health practice, according to Cottew and Olson, is to keep hydrated. Even if a person doesn’t necessarily feel like drinking liquid, they should be doing it regularly, Cottew said.

A high fever will make a person not want to drink liquids, so they could take Tylenol or ibuprofen to stem the fever, Olson said.

Health professionals also advise not touching the inside of the nose or the eyes with the fingers if possible as that can introduce viruses to the body.