MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Pharmacies and clinics are being inundated by customers rushing in to get their flu vaccinations. Now, south Minnesota hospitals are imposing visitor restrictions to combat the outbreak.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, south central counties in the state are being hit the hardest.

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“Other areas are seeing and starting to catch up — they’re starting to see cases. We’re not the only area that is seeing cases, but the south central does have the highest rate thus far,” said MDH epidemiologist Brad Krier.

Currently, those counties are experiencing a rate of 19 influenza cases per 100,000 residents. That compares with the Twin Cities flu rate of 12 cases per 100,000 residents.

The patients seeking medical care are also sicker than in previous influenza outbreaks.

Dr. Ruth Bolton is an urgent care physician with the Mayo Clinic Health System. Bolton told participants at a North Mankato news conference on Wednesday, “in urgent care, we have literally doubled our numbers in the last month.”

To help slow the spread, the South Central Healthcare Coalition, a group of 15 area hospitals and clinics, have imposed tighter patient visiting rules.

Hospital visits are limited to only immediate family, a maximum of two per patient and nobody who is sick will be allowed to visit.

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Those hospitals are in an 11-county area from Meeker and McLeod counties to the north, down to Martin and Faribault counties along the Iowa border.

“This unprecedented step is one way to make sure the flu situation doesn’t get any worse,” said Mayo Clinic Health System CEO, Dr. Greg Kutchner.

Despite some localized shortages, the current vaccine is still available and is highly recommended to everyone. But perhaps the best advice is directed towards anyone who feels the flu symptoms coming on.

“People should not go to school, or work honestly if they are able to spread the illness and you can tell by the fever and cough,” said Kutchner.

The restrictions don’t apply to Mayo facilities in Rochester.

Doctors add that people who get the flu are contagious from about a day before symptoms appear for up to a week, or as long as the cough, fever, chills and ache symptoms last.

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Watch the earlier report from Chris Stanford: