OSCEOLA/MECOSTA Co. — As the winter weather continues across the state of Michigan and across the nation, health experts warn about the possibility of spreading the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu, also known as influenza, is widespread across the United States. Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals are working to combat the CDC-declared flu epidemic. Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe infection in the nose, throat and lungs, which generally begins spreading across the nation in October and can last through May.

Dr. Dale Wiersma, a physician who works with medical and surgical patients at the Big Rapids hospital, said people who have the flu should limit their exposure to others.

“The desire for people when they get sick is to work through their daily lives,” he said. “Stay home. Get enough fluids. Keep yourself healthy by staying hydrated.”

Wiersma said the CDC is trying to control the current influenza outbreak and one of the measures it is taking is requesting limited visitations to hospitals.

“In addition, the hospitals are asking patients to limit the number of people who accompany them to office and clinic visits,” a Spectrum press release said. “All visitors are expected to be healthy and the hospitals are taking active steps to protect patients, staff and visitors. Only healthy visitors should visit or accompany patients in the hospitals or outpatient clinics. Hospitals strongly recommend only two visitors or family members visit a patient at a time in order to limit exposure to patients, visitors and family members.”

Wiersma echoed the statement, noting people exposed to someone who is ill or is experiencing flu-like symptoms should respect the restrictions. Flu-like symptoms include a fever greater than 100.4 degrees, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, runny nose or congestion, vomiting or diarrhea or rash or draining sore.

“Because we are worried about the patients currently in the hospital, we are asking people to get tested for the flu and if they have influenza, we are asking them not to come visit,” he said. “We don’t want people recovering from surgery or something similar to get sick.”

People with flu-like symptoms should battle the illness at home unless symptoms become severe. According to the Spectrum release, only the most severe illnesses require a visit to an urgent care location or emergency department. For cases that are not severe, the symptoms should run their course within five to 10 days.

“Anyone can get the flu and face serious complications, which include death,” warned District Health Department No. 10 (DHD No. 10) Medical Director Jennifer Morse in a press release. “The flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, regardless of whether they are healthy or have risks. The very young, pregnant women, elderly and those with certain underlying health problems are at higher risk to have serious flu-related complications.”

For those hoping to ward off the illness, Wiersma suggested getting a flu vaccine every year, frequently washing hands, getting enough rest and eating a balanced diet.