The holiday season brings good times and glad tidings, but it can also be the breeding grounds for a season many of us don’t look forward to–the flu season.

The holiday season brings good times and glad tidings, but it can also be the breeding grounds for a season many of us don’t look forward to–the flu season.

A weekly influenza report from the Minnesota Department of Health said 578 people have been hospitalized since the flu season began in October, and 226 people were hospitalized with confirmed flu cases the last week of December.

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.

The Sleepy Eye Medical Center (SEMC) announced last week 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 restricting contact with possible contamination is one of the best ways to halt the spread of influenza.”

The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is by reducing or eliminating contact with those with flu or flu-like symptoms, by washing your hands frequently, disinfecting surfaces where the flu virus might reside using alcohol based cleaners and wearing a mask when in close contact with those that may have a cough or influenza-like illnesses.

In addition, to protect at-risk patients and staff from the seasonal influenza (flu) virus, New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) has instituted temporary visitor restrictions in their hospital, which include:

• Only immediate family may visit

• No more than two visitors at a time

• Anyone who is sick may not visit

The NUMC clinic continues to be open regular hours. More information about the flu is available at

Mayo Clinic Health System announced it is implementing visitor restrictions at its hospitals in Springfield, Mankato, Fairmont, New Prague, St. James and Waseca in order to protect patients and staff and limit the spread of influenza and other illnesses.

The restrictions are:

• Visitors are limited to immediate family members (Patient spouse or significant other, parent, sibling or child)

• Only two visitors per patient at a time

• No one who is ill (has symptoms of influenza including fever or chills, muscle or body aches, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache and fatigue) will be permitted to visit

These restrictions apply to all patients in all areas of the hospitals and are effective until further notice.

“By restricting visitors in this way we can help protect patients and others who are most susceptible to contracting influenza,” says Scott Thoreson, Administrator at Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield. “We realize this may cause inconvenience for some people, but we are taking this step in the best interest of the health of our patients, visitors and staff members.”

Hospitals and other health care organizations are reporting significant increases in patients testing positive for influenza and others presenting in clinics, urgent care settings and emergency departments with flu-like symptoms. Volumes at some locations have exceeded those experienced during the height of the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

“Everyone can make a difference to help reduce the spread of influenza and other illness by taking a few simple steps, including regularly washing your hands, covering your cough, staying home if you are sick and contacting your health care provider before going to a clinic or emergency department if you have flu-like symptoms,” says Thoreson.

According to Judy Mathiowetz, PHN at Brown County Public Health, the flu is highly contagious and is spread by inhaling infected droplets in the air or by coming in direct contact with an infected person’s secretions.

“A lot of times, people are contagious before they develop symptoms,” Mathiowetz said. She added that an infected adult person could be contagious up to seven days after symptoms appear.

Mathiowetz said to minimize the risk of becoming sick with influenza first and foremost, get vaccinated.

An annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and flu-related complications that could lead to hospitalization and even death.

Health experts across the country recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine. Since flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity can decline over time, annual vaccination is needed for optimal protection. Vaccinations are available from a doctor and at many pharmacies.

Anyone feeling ill should rest and stay home at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of fever reducing over-the-counter medications.

“A lot of people are going to work or school even though they aren’t feeling well and they are exposing others who may be more immune compromised then themselves,” said Mathiowetz. “To help prevent the spread of flu, stay home.” 

Scientists and public health experts have come to recognize that children, the elderly and individuals with chronic disease are at highest risk for complications from the flu.

Studies going back to 1976 show that annual seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have ranged from about 3,000 people to 49,000 people. And, each year it’s estimated that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of flu-related complications. People with certain long-term health conditions are at greater risk of suffering from serious flu complications.

Mathiowetz said anyone suffering symptoms of the flu can get medication that helps alleviate symptoms and the duration of the illness. However, that medication only works when diagnosed with the flu in the first 48 hours after having symptoms.

Most people don’t get to the doctor soon enough. In that case, Mathiowetz said, drinking plenty of fluids and rest is the best medicine.

However, if you've had the flu for a few days and then get worse, call your doctor immediately.