Hospital limits patient visitation in response to flu

Schneck Medical Center recently began limiting patient visitation because of an increase in flu activity in the area.

To keep patients, staff and the community from spreading the influenza virus, no more than three visitors will be allowed in a patient’s room at one time, said Julie Idlewine, marketing specialist.

Only spouses, immediate family and “significant others” identified by the patient can visit patients until restrictions are lifted, she added. Visitors must be 18 or older.

Also, all visitors are required to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before and after entering a patient’s room.

Hand sanitizer dispensers are available throughout the hospital, including outside of every patient room, Idlewine said.

Anyone with flu symptoms including fever and or chills, sore throat, muscle aches, runny or stuffy nose, cough, fatigue, headache and vomiting or diarrhea should not visit patients, she added.

The restrictions went into effect late last week and are the result of an increase in patients coming into the hospital testing positive for the flu.

Anita Root, infection preventionist at Schneck, said the number of cases has jumped significantly since the hospital first started seeing the flu the last week of November.

Although the flu can be seen anytime of year, Root said it is most prevalent in January and February.

Last year’s flu season — the worst Root said she has seen in three years — hit in January.

“It hit earlier this year, and we are still on the upward swing,” Root said.

When a patient presents flu-like symptoms, the hospital immediately conducts a rapid flu nasal swab test. The test is sent to the lab and indicates what type of flu it is.

“It’s a preliminary test that tells us whether they have it or not,” Root said. “It’s possible to get a negative test result and still have the flu, but if it’s positive, we know it’s the flu.”

During the last week of November, the hospital reported six positive rapid swab tests. That number jumped to 26 the first week of December and as of Friday afternoon stood at 27 for the week.

“We are progressively seeing more,” Root said.

While the H1N1 strain was most active last year. This year it’s H3N2 that the hospital is seeing, Root said.

H3N2 is one of the flu strands that the current flu vaccine does not protect against.

“It’s not a perfect match, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the vaccine,” she said.

Even though there is no cure for influenza, Root said anyone with symptoms should seek medical attention as soon as possible to try to get on an antiviral medication.

“If a flu diagnosis is confirmed, treatment with antiviral medications may decrease the length and severity of the flu,” she said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.