BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Bozeman Deaconess Hospital is enforcing visitor restrictions because of a slight uptick in flu cases in the area. Hospital officials say when the number of flu cases begin to rise in Gallatin County, they put certain restrictions in place.

Tracy Knoedler is the Infection Prevention Coordinator at Bozeman Deaconess. When we spoke to her Wednesday afternoon she told us the restrictions are in place to protect patients.

"People in the hospital are certainly at a higher risk for complication of influenza, so its very important to us to make sure we are protecting them from that virus," said Knoedler.

Knoedler explains why they have restricted people under the age of 18: "Kids have been shown to carry the virus longer and be contagious longer so we want to make sure we are protecting patients," said Knoedler.

According to the Gallatin County Health Department, so far this season there have been 36 reported cases in the county.

Knoedler says getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself. So far numbers from the health department show almost 2,500 people have been vaccinated in the area. But there are other precautions people can take.

"Hand washing is your number one defense against it," said Knoedler.

She also mentioned it is important for people be mindful, especially if they plan on visiting the hospital.

"Just making sure before you touch your nose or mouth or anything like that you wash your hands with either soap and water or alcohol based hand rub is a very effective against influenza as well," said Knoedler.

Especially because it doesn't take long for the virus to spread.

"It can live on surfaces for a while so even after 20 minutes and someone has come and touched the doorknob, it can still be there when you touch the doorknob, and that is how you are going to wind up with it," said Knoedler.

The restrictions are usually lifted two weeks after the last case of flu is reported. We are told that could be early this spring.