MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The flu is now so widespread in Minnesota that some Twin Cities hospitals are restricting visitors from seeing patients.

Fairview Health Services announced some temporary changes to visitor policies at six hospitals Tuesday.

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The health system’s sites include Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton, Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, the University of Minnesota Medical Center and University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing.

Hospital visitors arrive to spread cheer. But when there’s an outbreak of the flu, they can also spread the virus.

Dr. Steve Meisel is the director of patient safety for Fairview.

“Patients who are in the hospital are by definition sick. If they were to come down with the flu on top of their underlying illness, that could really set back their recovery,” he said.

The doctors say children under the age of five are restricted from visiting until flu season is over.

“The little four -year -old might bring some joy, but they may also bring along the flu,” he said.

Fairview staff is now screening all visitors as they check in, and those with flu symptoms will not be allowed to see patients.

“Somebody at the nurse’s station will be stopping you, and asking some pretty simple questions. ‘Do you feel ill? Do you have a fever? Have you been coughing and sneezing? Do you have muscle aches'” he said.

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Dr. Meisel says stopping the spread of the flu is actually in our hands.

“Ninety percent of the germs that are on the hands are in the fingertips,” he said.

But most of us don’t wash our hands thoroughly enough or long enough.

He says alcohol-based hand sanitizers work well too, actually killing the germs instead of just rinsing them off.

Signs are posted throughout Fairview hospitals advising visitors of the flu season restrictions.

“The most important thing that people can do to protect themselves from getting the flu is to get a flu shot,” he said.

The flu season is hitting us earlier than usual this year, and it appears the strain that is showing up in many cases, is one that is not covered in the current flu shot.

Doctors still recommend getting a shot though, because it will still lessen the severity of the symptoms and how long last.

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Fairview is asking their hospital staff to be vigilant as well, and to stay home if they think they are showing signs of the flu.