Fairview Health Services has put temporary visitor restrictions in place at its six Minnesota hospitals to prevent the spread of flu.
The policy is activated when the Minnesota Department of Health declares that flu is widespread in the state, said Steve Meisel, Fairview's director of patient safety.
"At the same time, even if the Department of Health doesn't declare it widespread, but we're seeing local impact in our hospitals or clinics, we'll consider it as well," he said.
Flu cases increased modestly in Minnesota last week. Minnesota Department of Health officials say there were 144 influenza-related hospitalizations for the week ending Jan. 4. That's about two dozen more flu hospitalizations than the previous week.
Epidemiologist Kris Ehresmann said most of the hospitalizations were among the youngest and oldest populations. But she said younger adults have also been hit hard by the virus.
"With this strain we're seeing more activity, and more disease, and disease severity in those middle ages, which we might not see with a different strain circulating," said Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's infectious disease division.
The H1N1 virus remains the most commonly identified flu strain reported so far this season. That strain killed 63 people during the 2009 flu pandemic; most of them were younger adults.
State health officials say so far there have not been any pediatric flu deaths this year. The department is not tracking weekly flu deaths among adults due to budget cuts.
At Fairview hospitals, visitors should not come to the hospital if they might have the flu or if they have been in close contact with someone who is sick.
The restrictions are a permanent change that will likely occur each season, and will last until flu is no longer considered a significant threat, Meisel said.
"We're very concerned about the impact of the flu on our patients," he said. "We're asking our visitors as well as our employees, if you're sick, please don't come to work. Please don't come to visit, because the safety of our patients is paramount."
There are flu deaths and hospitalizations every year but health officials say people can protect themselves and others by being vaccinated, washing their hands and staying home when sick.
Fairview hospitals will screen visitors for possible flu symptoms or exposure, and instruct patients and their guests about hand washing and other protective measures.
Children under age 5 will not be allowed to visit, but Fairview personnel may make exceptions for compassionate reasons.
Notification of hospital visitor restrictions is posted at facility entrances, on hospital websites and in waiting areas.
Fairview operates Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, Fairview Northland Medical Center in Princeton, Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, and Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing.
Its hospitals also include the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital and University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis.