MARSHALL?- According to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation is experiencing at least a moderately severe flu season this year.
Twenty-nine states, including Minnesota, have reported an early start and above-normal levels of influenza-like illness (ILI) for the flu season, and nine states reported moderate levels of ILI activity.
In Minnesota, more than 1,100 people have been hospitalized with influenza since the start of the flu season and 27 influenza-related deaths have been confirmed, according to the state Department of Health.
The good news is that, according to Teresa Behm, spokesperson for Affiliated Community Medical Centers, the figures are better for the Marshall area.
In a news release, Behm said last week out of 61 people tested for influenza at the Marshall ACMC clinic, only 17 tested positive. Most of the people who did come in with the flu had not been vaccinated.
"Vaccination is still the best protection against the flu, and it is not too late to get your flu shot," Behm said. "If you fit into a high-risk group for influenza-related complications, or your symptoms are severe, your healthcare provider will know if you need to get tested for influenza."
Area medical centers are either taking precautionary measures and putting safety protocols in place or are considering doing so.
"We're going to do some restrictions around visitors," said Jo Ann Coover, infection prevention nurse at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. "We're going to restrict visitors at the hospital and nursing home to immediate family and only those who are symptom free. Right now we're not seeing any more cases than what we'd call a normal flu season in Lyon County and the Marshall area, but we are prepared if there is an emergency room surge."
Coover said preparations include immunizing all staff, preparing emergency staffing plans and inventorying supplies of equipment, supplies, vaccine and anti-viral medications.
The Murray County Medical Center has restricted patient visits to immediate family and excluded children altogether.
"We've had an increased number of cases, and we're seeing a lot of that at the clinic," said Darlene Mechtenberg, nurse in charge of infection control and employee health. "When we see people come in with respiratory symptoms, we require them to wear a mask while they're in the clinic."
Precautions are particularly necessary in nursing homes, since the majority of deaths from ILI are among people more than 50 years old, though there have been fatalities among young people who were previously healthy.
"We have signage posted with the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines," said Rosemary Christianson, hospital care manager at the Hendricks Community Hospital Association. "Cover your cough, wash hands, and masks are available for patients and staff with symptoms of ILI. In the nursing home people need to consider if they need to visit or not," Christianson said.
Granite Falls Hospital and Manor has so far had only two in-patient flu cases and has not yet adopted precautions.
"We haven't had any reason to yet," said Hospital Administrator George Gerlach, "but should we have any, we won't hesitate."
Gerlach said precautionary measures were discussed in a meeting on Wednesday.
"We haven't yet but probably will soon," said Darla Bakker, an LPN at the Tyler Health Care Center.
People who come down with ILI can have mild symptoms at first, often mistaken for a cold but still be contagious.
Coover recommended monitoring one's own health and taking all the traditional precautions.
"Wash your hands, drink plenty of fluids, get enough rest, take your vitamins," Coover said.