Posted at: 01/07/2013 9:51 PM
Updated at: 01/07/2013 10:15 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- The number of reported flu cases across the country is spiking much earlier than usual this year, leaving experts worried.
And here in Minnesota, the outbreak has some medical officials taking drastic action to protect those most at risk. Health officials are increasingly focused on those places where the disease is likely to spread, specifically hospitals.
The Center for Disease Control says flu cases across the country are up 25 percent from just two weeks ago, and some local hospitals are responding with some pretty strict restrictions.
At the New Ulm Medical Center, that means keeping patients away from people who may be infected, even if those people are the ones they want most by their side.
“Each patient can only have two visitors at any one time,” said director Dr. Joan Krikava. “We are asking for immediate family only, and of course if you're sick you shouldn't visit anyone at the hospital."
Medical centers in Sleepy Eye and Madelia have followed suit, limiting the number of people that pass through the hospital each day.
At Mayo Health Systems in Albert Lea, officials have put up signs asking people with flu-like symptoms to refrain from visiting until they have fully recuperated.
and while they haven't restricted visitor access yet, officials say the outbreak is still a major concern.
“Does it worry me? Yes,” said infection preventionist Patty Abbott, “I think it's pretty serious and I think especially since people don't really appreciate how severe influenza can be."
Nation-wide, 18 children have died from the flu in recent weeks, and health officials say elderly people are also much more susceptible to the disease.
But they aren't the only ones health officials are worried about.
“The flu can run among our employees as well, so that makes it harder for us to be able to staff adequately and take care of the patients,” Abbott said.
Officials in Albert Lea say they meet regularly to assess the hospital's ability to handle a large outbreak and would consider restricting or even screening visitors if the situation worsens.
“We’ll just watch it day by day, we'll watch it and if we see that the numbers are increasing then we'll make a determination that it's time,” Abbott said.
Officials at the hospital in Albert Lea and at the Olmsted County Medical Center in Rochester say they have put in visitor restrictions in the past, including requiring visitors to wear masks and other protective measures.
Both hospitals say they don't have a set benchmark for when they would put some of those restrictions in place, but officials say they are watching the situation closely.