BEMIDJI -- The peak of flu season can vary year-to-year, but health officials are sending out reminders to residents about getting flu shots now, before numbers start to rise.

"There's sometimes discussion on the flu vaccine not being a good match with the strain of flu going around," said Cynthia Borgen, Beltrami County Public Health director. "But, we've seen people who've been vaccinated who may be exposed to a type of flu not included in the vaccine, and they still end up having a less serious form of the flu. It does decrease hospitalizations and deaths overall."

According to the Minnesota Department of Health data from Oct. 28-Nov. 2, surveillance shows a sporadic geographical spread of influenza. During that week, there were four hospitalizations, bringing the total for this season to 23.

While the numbers are moderate now, though, Borgen said cases of the flu can hit a ceiling in different months.

"The flu season peaks really vary by year, last year it was in February and in 2009 it was in December," Borgen said. "It changes. So far, we're having a pretty typical season, it's been sporadic in Minnesota, but we have had one death in the state."

Last season, there were 2,543 flu hospitalizations, down from the five-year high of 6,446 hospitalizations in the 2017-2018 season.

"It does cause a number of deaths every year and sometimes people don't take it as seriously as other diseases and events happening," Borgen said. "But, the flu is one of those illnesses that can really impact the very young and the very old in our communities."

The best defense against hospitalizations, Borgen said, are the vaccines, especially because they can protect those unable to receive a shot.

"The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over six months of age. It's also recommended for pregnant women in the last trimester of their pregnancy to help get some immunity to the new born," Borgen said. "By getting a higher number of people vaccinated, there's a herd immunity for those unable to get the flu shot, because people around that person aren't getting the flu."

Outside of the vaccine, Borgen said the additional precautions of washing hands, covering coughs and staying home if one's sick are also important in halting the flu.

For more information on status of flu season, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's official page, www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/flu/.