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How to protect your family from the flu virus this holiday season

The Minnesota Department of Health says the flu is now "widespread" in Minnesota. Just in time for the holidays.

MINNEAPOLIS — Just in time for the holidays, and as family and friends get together for holiday parties, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says the flu is now considered widespread in Minnesota.

“We are seeing flu activity pick up around the state,” Vaccine and Preventable Disease Supervisor Jennifer Heath says.

MDH says there have been 262 hospitalizations so far this flu season and nearly a third of them have been children.

“We had 60 schools report flu outbreaks last week,” Heath says. “School’s report to us when they have 5% of their students out with influenza, but some schools have had as much as 20% or even 30% of their students out sick.”

Doctors say the flu is spread through water droplets, from sneezes and coughs.

When you don't cover your mouth those germs go everywhere, but even when you cover your mouth, they germs can live on your hand for at least an hour.

"But when you touch a surface it stays on there a long time," Hennepin Healthcare Internal Medicine Doctor David Hilden says.

While the germs don’t last very long on human tissue, Hilden says they can survive a lot longer on inanimate surfaces such as kitchen counters and door knobs.

“They can survive for several hours, even longer than a day in certain conditions,” Dr. Hilden says.

"Wiping down surfaces is not a bad idea."

Putting out hand sanitizer for your guests is also a good idea, along with wiping down the gifts and other things they bring into your home.

And if you're serving food you might want to avoid big bowls of snacks where people can dig in with their hands.

Instead, consider putting snacks in tiny cups, or serving them with a spoon.

Studies suggest running a humidifier may also help.

"It is true that the viruses do better in certain environments. They like cold dry air," Dr. Hilden says.

So, putting a little extra moisture into the air may slow down the spread of sickness, doctors don't know that for sure, but they say it won't hurt anything.

The flu is reaching its peak season now and will likely stick around long after the holidays are over.

"We can expect to see flu continue to pick up over the next couple of weeks, even the next couple of months. Flu is just really starting to pick up and we have a way to go yet," Heath says.