(Editor's note, Jan 21: According to the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health has reclassified the child's death; it was not due to flu.)
The death occurred during the week ending Dec. 20, 2008.
As of the end of 2008, flu cases had begun to trend upward. Thirty states, including Minnesota and the District of Columbia, report only sporadic flu cases. Three states -- Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia -- reported region-wide flu activity; 10 states reported localized flu outbreaks.
No state has reported widespread flu. That's likely to change. Peak flu season usually occurs in January or February.
Hospitals report that cases of flu-like illnesses have begun to rise, although they hadn't yet increased beyond what is normal for this time of year. A trend of increasing flu-like illnesses is the first sign that flu season has arrived.
That's good news if you haven't yet got around to getting flu shots (or sniffs of the nasal flu vaccine) for your family. There's still plenty of time for protection, especially as flu cases pop up throughout the winter and spring.
Flu vaccination is even more important this year, as one of the flu bugs in circulation is resistant to the flu drug Tamiflu. Fortunately, this year's vaccine is an excellent match for the flu bugs circulating in the U.S.
Last year's flu vaccine was not a good match for the H3N2 flu bug that caused the most flu over the course of the season. However, even mismatched flu vaccine offers significant protection.
In terms of deaths and hospitalizations, the 2007-2008 flu season was the most severe season of the past three seasons. There's no way to predict how severe this year's flu season will be.