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Allina restricts visitors to prevent flu spread

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Allina Health will restrict visitors to its hospitals and clinics starting Tuesday to protect patients and staff from the flu. 

The health care provider said it typically restricts visitors when the Minnesota Department of Health determines that influenza is widespread across the state.

"We find that it helps reduce both inadvertent exposures to our patients, who are very vulnerable at this point, to other visitors or staff," said Marsha Studer, Allina's director of infection prevention operations. "It's just trying to reduce transmissions."

The restrictions apply to all Allina hospitals and clinics, as well as the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley.

Under the restrictions, children under the age of 5 and people who are sick are asked not to visit. Anyone who has a cough or sore throat should wear a mask.

The predominant strain of virus circulating this year is expected to cause less severe illness than last year, when influenza put nearly 6,500 Minnesotans in the hospital.

But Studer said Allina has seen a 30 percent increase in outpatient and ambulatory services in the last two weeks.

"That's our early indicator and people are coming in being symptomatic," Studer said.

Studer said visitors can also reduce the spread of flu by frequently washing their hands or using antibacterial hand cleanser.