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Flu Outbreak Prompts Regional Hospital Visitor Restriction

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NORTH MANKATO, Minn. -

The South Central part of the state is being described as the epicenter of the flu outbreak this year, and right now the region has the highest rate of flu hospitalization in the state.

How serious is the influenza outbreak in the area? Well judging by the lineup of community leaders and health officials, along with cameras at a 'flu outlook' press conference Wednesday—pretty serious.

Mankato Clinic Medical Director Dr. Julie Gerndt says, "In the past week we have seen about 500 patients more than we did a year ago."

Many hospitals, emergency rooms and area public health agencies are reporting more flu cases this year than at the height of the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak.

Epidemiologist with the MN Department of Health Brad Krier says, "The south central region does have the highest rate thus far."

This has prompted hospitals in the region to announce, today, they are adopting uniform visitor restrictions at all facilities in the 11 area counties.

Public Affairs Regional Director of Mayo Clinic Health System Mankato Kevin Burns says, "Help us take better care of you."

Visitors are now limited to immediate family members, patients can have only two visitors at a time, and of course, no one who is ill is permitted to visit.

Burns says, "Visitors restrictions means everyone, all areas of the hospital. That means the in-patient units, that means waiting areas."

For otherwise healthy people who have the flu, doctors are asking you to stay home too.

Dr. Greg Kutcher, President and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health System Mankato says, "You really don't need to go into the clinic or to urgent care or to the doctor, you are spreading it around when you do that."

Plus you are putting more pressure on hospitals that are also seeing high volumes.

The # 1 message they hope people take away isn't anything you haven't hear before.

Krier says, "It's not too late to get the flu shot. It is very important to get the flu shot."

This year's vaccine is 60% effective against strains going around...which they say are decent odds.

Krier says, "You know I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I would take the odds of having a 60% protection versus having a 0% protection."

Officials say there are also things employers can do to help slow down the outbreak, like adjusting sick policies that require a doctor's note for sick days, expand opportunities for people with symptoms to work from home, and making sure all common areas are frequently disinfected.