MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The number of Minnesota schools suffering from flu outbreaks shot up dramatically this week.

Last week, only 19 schools reported new outbreaks. This week, that number spiked to 203.

The Minnesota Department of Health also said Thursday that two children have now died from the flu in Minnesota. And more than 300 people have gotten so sick they had to stay in the hospital.

To protect other patients, some hospitals in southern Minnesota are restricting visitors to immediate family members.

Mayo Clinic Health System says patients at its hospitals can only have two guests at a time right now. And those visitors can’t be sick.

As the number of illnesses surges, one drug you can get from your doctor can be tough to find.

According to the drug’s website, Tamiflu “attacks the flu virus and blocks the release of newly-formed viruses and helps stop it from spreading.”

Doctors agree that it is effective, but Tamiflu may also be hard to find, especially when you need it the most.

In some cases, the supply is limited as wholesalers hold on to the drug to ensure it lasts the entire season.

Lee Mork is the director of pharmacy for Allina Clinics.

“It’s almost like a pseudo-shortage right now because of the way they are handling it. But it’s really to preserve the overall supply by kind of putting limits on each pharmacy, the amount they can receive,” Mork said.

The Minnesota Department of Health says people in south-central and south-eastern Minnesota are finding the supply is spotty, meaning you might have to wait a day or two to get your prescription filled or go to several different locations to find it.

“Generally physicians will prescribe that within the first 48 hours of your outbreak,” Mork said. “After that time, it doesn’t help to reduce the length of the course, because the course is rather short in most patients.”

Young children and folks over 65 are the most at-risk when it comes to the flu, and therefore a higher priority when it comes to Tamiflu prescriptions.

“We want to prioritize our Tamiflu supplies for them,” Mork said.

And if you think the flu is widespread now, just wait until after the holidays. Doctors say traditionally after people travel to share meals and hugs with relatives, we see an increase in the number of flu cases.

“With it now being widespread in Minnesota, and then you basically start sharing it at your holiday events, yes, it can continue to build,” he said.

So try a second or third pharmacy if you can’t get your prescription filled immediately. Eventually you should find it.

Again, Tamiflu is most effective within the first 48 hours of showing symptoms of the flu.

How can you tell the difference between the flu and a cold? A cold tends to come on gradually. One day you have a sore throat, and then maybe a cough the next day and congestion.

With the flu, the symptoms come on fast and hard. You suddenly have a fever, body aches, chills and fatigue.

Also, the folks at Allina say the number of flu patients they’ve treated in their clinics in the last week is three times as many as the week before.

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