By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The flu is now considered “widespread” across Minnesota.

In other words, the flu virus has been reported at hospitals all over the state.

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Many hospitals are placing restrictions on visitors to stop the spread.

“We’re seeing people with body aches, headaches, high fevers, sore throat, cough, wheezing,” said Dr. Bjorn Peterson.

Emergency rooms across the state are dealing with an increase in the number of people seeking relief from flu-like symptoms.

Doctors at Regions Hospital in St. Paul say they see more than 30 people a day who just don’t feel good.

“The hospital itself is seeing on average 10 patients a day that are hospitalized for flu-symptoms,” Peterson said.

The numbers are why the Minnesota Department of Health has declared influenza and respiratory illness widespread, which means hospitals will be placing restrictions on visitors to protect patients and staff.

(credit: CBS)

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“We say stay at home if you can,” said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease doctor with Allina Health.

He says Allina triggers its visitor restriction when the flu is widespread. Nurses have both the authority and the responsibility to ask ill visitors to go home.

“We try to keep kids under 5 out altogether if we can,” Rhame said. “If they’re under 5, they can have influenza and not look very sick and still be very infectious.”

Signs are also posted throughout Allina clinics and hospitals asking people to wash their hands and cover their cough to decrease the chance of spreading the flu virus.

“There’ll be boxes of masks and hand sanitation cleanser at each of those entrances associated with each of those signs,” Rhame said.

The restrictions begin Jan. 2 for Allina Health hospitals, and will stay in effect until the flu is no longer widespread throughout the state.

As of this week, Allina has admitted 120 patients with influenza, and over 870 people have tested positive for the flu.

Doctors say now more than ever it’s important to get the flu shot — and it’s not too late.

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Many clinics are offering the vaccine that some doctors say cut your chance by 50 percent of getting the flu.

Reg Chapman