Flu strain putting big strain on southern Minnesota

1:49 AM, Jan 10, 2013   |    comments
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MANKATO, Minn. - Health officials in Southern Minnesota are urging dozens of communities to step up and help stop the spread of a nasty flu virus that's taking a serious toll on the region.

Hospitals are taking drastic steps to stop the bug, and epidemiologists warn the worst may not be behind us yet.

Brad Krier with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says the metro area has a flu rate of 12 people per 100,000. He explains that the south central area of the state is looking at a rate of 19 per 100,000. "So it's quite a bit higher," he told media members at a press conference.

This wasn't your usual press conference. It was packed with health care professionals, business leaders, school leaders, and state workers. Southern Minnesota hospitals have reached out to each other to take a stand against the flu and its impact.

"Every hospital in our region, a total of 15 hospitals in the 11 county area, is implementing visitor restrictions," said Dr. Greg Kutcher, President and CEO of Mayo Clinic Health Systems. "This unprecedented step is one way to make sure that the flu situation in our region doesn't get any worse."

The restrictions mean no more than two visitors per patient and those visitors have to be immediate family members like parents, spouses, and children.

The hospitals in that area of the state have been slammed. Mankato Clinic reports 500 more patients this week when comparing it to the same time period last year. They've seen a 40% increase in requests for services. Dr. Ruth Bolton, an Urgent Care Physician in the Mayo's System, is also witnessing dramatic volume increases. "In our urgent care, we have literally doubled our numbers in just the last month," she said.

Krier says the H3N2 strain that is causing the most illness usually provides a more difficult flu season, though he wouldn't speculate on why southern Minnesota is seeing more problems than the rest of the state. While he can't predict when the end of this regional strain will end, Krier did say "our peaks have usually been in late January or early February."

Until this bug flies the coop, the region around Mankato will continue to try and cope. "Businesses are seeing an increase in cases of absenteeism," said Barb Embacher of Mankato's Chamber of Commerce, Greater Mankato Growth. She was hoping business owners would relax or change some human resources policies to help adjust for the particularly rough flu season.

"Please, we implore you to stay home when you are sick!" Cheri Lewer, Director of Waseca County's Public Health Department concluded.

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