Flu hospitalizes 144 Minnesotans in a week; hospitals tighten policies

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The flu is sending more Minnesotans to hospitals as patients. And some hospitals are asking those exposed to the virus to stay away if they're only visitors.

The Minnesota Department of Health says there were 144 flu-related hospitalizations in the week ending Jan. 4. That more than doubles the 71 new hospitalizations they reported the previous week, when officials first categorized this year's edition of the flu as widespread.

Due to funding cutbacks, the Health Department is not tracking the number of flu-related adult fatalities this winter. The department reports no deaths among juveniles so far this season. Their weekly report includes tables showing the breakdown of hospitalizations by region (nearly two-thirds are in the Twin Cities area) and by age (the median age is 52).

People who have had the flu or who have had close contact with someone who has suffered from it are being asked to avoid making hospital visits. KARE reports the Fairview Health System took the step Thursday.

The change in visitor policies is an effort to reduce patient and employee exposure to influenza. The temporary policies will last for the duration of the flu season. Hospitals impacted by the policy are Fairview Ridges in Burnsville, Fairview Southdale in Edina, Fairview Northland in Princeton, Fairview Lakes in Wyoming, University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital and University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis and Fairview Range in Hibbing.

NBC reported that influenza activity is widespread in 25 states and regional in 20 more. One hard-hit state is Michigan, where more than a dozen adults and children infected with flu are on life support. Most have the H1N1 strain. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu each season. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people a year.

Meanwhile, Health Day reports a shortage of the liquid form of Tamiflu, designed for children too young to swallow capsules. The drug's maker, Genentech, has fallen behind in production, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The shortage doesn't include the capsule form of Tamiflu, which remains in good supply.

Flu vaccines are widely available and unaffected by shortages. The CDC recommends a flu shot for everyone older than 6 months to ward off the flu.

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