SLEEPY?EYE - The Sleepy Eye Medical Center announced Wednesday that until further notice the facility is closed to visitors. The closing is triggered by an increase in cases of influenza and influenza-like illnesses.
"We are taking these precautionary measures to prevent the spread of influenza and to protect our patients, staff, visitors and the community at large," said Kevin Sellheim, CEO and administrator. "Flu viruses are considered to be spread primarily by droplets and by restricting contact with possible contamination is one of the best ways to halt the spread on influenza."
According to the Minnesota Department of Health diagnosed cases of influenza typically reach the highest level, widespread, in February. In this flu season cases have already reached widespread levels in December.
Flu cases spike in Minnesota
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported Wednesday that health officials predict it could be one of the worst flu seasons in years in Minnesota.
Flu patients have been filling urgent care centers and emergency rooms across the state. More than 120 Minnesotans were hospitalized with the flu in the week ending Dec. 22, nearly twice the number of cases in the previous week, health officials said. And it's still early in the flu season.
"That suggests this has the potential to be severe," said Minnesota Department of Health infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann.
The Centers for Disease Control warned in early December of a potentially severe flu season. Through Dec. 22, flu was classified as widespread in 31 states, according to the CDC's website.
Since the start of the flu season in October, 297 people have been hospitalized, officials said.
"It's the highest number of patients with flu since H1N1," said Dr. Brent Asplin, chief clinical officer for Fairview Health Services. "Over the weekend all our community hospitals were at or near capacity."
During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, 1,800 people in Minnesota were hospitalized over a 12-month period.
Some hospitals have added staffed beds to accommodate patients during this season's outbreak, health officials said. The health department is tracking hospital bed availability on a daily basis, according to the Star Tribune.
"A number of hospitals are at very high capacity," said Jane Braun, director of emergency preparedness for the Health Department. "No one is turning patients away, but some are adding extras wings and using those types of strategies to absorb additional demand."
Hospital staffers are not immune to the flu.
"We are seeing high numbers of sick calls for both staff and their kids," said Asplin. "But it's important that they stay home from work or school."
This year's most common strain, H3N2, is also causing more severe symptoms than normal, according to Ehresmann. That could be contributing to the number of people showing up in emergency rooms and urgent care centers, he added.
"Getting a flu shot is one of the most effective ways each of us can avoid getting the flu and spreading the illness to others," said Julie Ashton, PHN at Brown County Public Health. "Supplies of the flu vaccine are plentiful and readily available from your local health care provider, local public health or other consumer outlets, including many pharmacies."
Officials remind the public, in addition to getting the seasonal flu vaccine; there are other steps everyone can take to prevent contracting and spreading the flu. They include:
Cover your cough
Wash your hands with warm water and soap, or use an alcohol-based sanitizer
If you aren't feeling well, stay home
If your children are ill, keep them at home
The seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza (flu) viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The signs and symptoms of the seasonal flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.