SAINT PAUL, Minn., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- One of this season's dominant flu strains has already proved to be especially troublesome. This week, officials confirmed that a total of three children in Minnesota have now died as a result of the flu strain H3.
In the wake the deaths, physicians and public health officials are warning the public to remain vigilant -- and warning healthcare providers than things could continue to get worse.
"We have about seven children right now in our intensive care unit receiving treatment for complications related to this flu virus, and we might even set a record for the number of cases treated in December," Patsy Stinchfield, Director of Infection Prevention and Control, told local ABC affiliate KSTP.
This particular strain of the flu virus can travel through the bloodstream and infect the brain, causing meningitis-like symptoms that can in some cases prove deadly. When infecting the lungs, the virus can also trigger an overreaction by the immune system of the infected -- flooding the chest with white blood cells and causing potentially deadly complications.
This year's strain isn't entirely new, H3 strains emerge every few years; they have proven particularly dangerous for children and the elderly in the past.
"The dominant strain appears to be H3, which in previous seasons meant there were more hospitalizations, more deaths and more disease in general," Karen Martin, a state health epidemiologist, told the Star Tribune.
Health officials are still encouraging everyone who is old enough and healthy to get a flu shot. Even though this year's flu shot isn't a match to the dominant strain, those who get vaccinated will still be better protected than those who not not. They will also be less likely to pass along the flu, regardless of the strain.