MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With just a cough or sneeze, it can hit you from six feet away. So cover your mouth and wash those hands, because flu season is back in Minnesota.

This chart shows how many people got so sick they had to stay in the hospital. You can see the number slowly tick up, then jump by 50 percent last week.

Flu cases shot up in Minnesota last week and with thousands of hands roaming at the Science Museum of Minnesota, germ awareness was in full swing.

“Things are wiped down, sanitized and cleaned every night,” said Kim Ramsden, a spokesperson for the museum.

She says the museum made some changes after a swine flu outbreak a few years back.

“Pretty much anywhere you go, you can find a hand sanitizer dispenser to clean off your hands,” she said.

And those have come in handy again.

Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease specialist with Allina Health, says flu season is in full swing.

“So far it’s almost all H1N1 and it’s that pandemic strain,” he said.

The good news is that, for the most part, the flu vaccine given out this year fights off H1N1 or swine flu.

“Your best play is to get the vaccine, and you have enough time to do it for most people,” he said.

Unless patients are weak already, he says the strain responds well to flu meds.

“It looks like a fairly straight-forward year, but influenza can surprise us all,” he said.

He expects the season to last till April or May.

The lesson from it all – you know to wash your hands but – coughing is key.

Rhame says even if you turn your head, the virus can go airborne, so it’s that kindergarten lesson of literally coughing or sneezing into your sleeve.

The doctor says colds gradually come on. With influenza, however, it hits you like a ton of bricks.

Rhame also says you may think you’d be OK if you got the flu, but it can be very dangerous to anyone around you who is weak.

He says that if you’ve got time, get vaccinated.

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