A recent influx in the number of cases of the influenza virus has state and local health care agencies on high alert, prompting some facilities to take precautions.
According to a press release from Sampson Regional Medical Center, the hospital is now imposing visitation restrictions due to widespread influenza activity reported throughout North Carolina and in the local area.
With few exceptions, the mandatory visitation guidelines, the release states, are hospital-wide and restrict visitors under the age of 18 or adults of any age who have fever or flu-like symptoms.
Restrictions are expected to be in place until March 31, at which time hospital staff will reevaluate the number of cases and make a decision about extending the date.
“In an effort to provide the best quality of care in a safe environment for our patients, we must protect them,” Wanda Holden, RN, Infection Control Coordinator for SRMC, said. “This means managing their exposure to contagious illnesses, such as the flu. As a result, the hospital is imposing these special measures to protect its patients, staff, and visitors from spreading the flu.”
While the number of flu cases is higher than those reported last year, the number is still significantly lower than the year before, when more than 200 deaths were reported across the state. That influx in cases also caused a shortage of Tamiflu, the drug used to treat the flu.
According to Amber Cava, vice president of marketing at SRMC, the local hospital emergency room and urgent care saw a slight increase in the number of cases of the flu between December and mid-January. Since Jan. 15, the hospital reports a total of 215 cases of the flu.
As part of the restrictions, the hospital staff is recommending any individuals with any flu-like symptoms not visit the hospital until they are free of symptoms for 24 hours. Those symptoms include fever or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, or muscle or body aches.
Additionally, Holden said all visitors are encouraged to perform good hand hygiene upon entering or exiting the facility or when coming and going from a patient’s room. Hygiene stations are located throughout the hospital, stocked with face masks, tissue, and hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer pumps are also located at the entry point of every patient room.
“In addition to getting the flu shot, respiratory hygiene and hand washing are the most important steps people can take to help prevent the spread of flu,” Holden added.
According to hospital staff, imposing visitation restrictions is just one of many steps the hospital is taking to protect its patients and public. Healthcare personnel who develop fever or flu symptoms are asked not to report to work. Isolation measures are in effect for patients with flu, which requires staff entering the room to wear a face mask and at times a gown and gloves.
Hospital staff are also required to wear a mask during flu season if for any reason they have an acceptable reason for not receiving the annual flu vaccine, which is a requirement of employment at Sampson Regional Medical Center.
According to Holden, tips for helping prevent the spread of the virus include:
• Hand and respiratory hygiene is the next best step to preventing the spread of flu. Hand washing helps stop the spread of germs. It’s recommended that you wash often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
• It’s also important to remember to disinfect surfaces and objects that may come in contact with flu germs. In the home and workplace, disinfect phones, keyboards, door handles, and other commonly touched surfaces. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent the spread of germs.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, try to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. It’s also recommended that people wear a face mask to reduce spreading or catching germs.
• If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose, or direct your cough or sneeze into your elbow. This way, you are less likely to touch a surface and spread germs.
North Carolina isn’t the only state seeing a peak in the number of flu cases. According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus is widespread in 42 other states.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.