The flu is on the rise in Jackson County, local health officials say and to prevent the spread of the illness, Schneck Medical Center is restricting the number of visitors patients can have at one time.

The Seymour hospital issued the restrictions Monday to help protect patients, staff and the community from influenza.

No more than three visitors will be admitted to a patient’s room at one time and they must be 18 or older, according to a news release from the hospital.

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All visitors must wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after visiting a patient. Hand sanitizer is available throughout the hospital and outside each patient’s room.

It’s not unusual for hospitals and other medical facilities to adopt such restrictions and rules during flu season, said Stacy East, infection preventionist at Schneck.

Influenza is not the same as having a cold and should be taken seriously as every year, about 30,000 people in the United States die from the flu or complications caused by the flu.

Although anyone can get it, there are certain groups of people more susceptible to it, including those 65 or older, children and anyone with a compromised immune system.

Others who are considered at high risk are pregnant women, teachers, child care workers and medical personnel.

To date, the hospital has had 145 patients test positive for the flu in the emergency room this season, East said.

“Last year we did not see the spike we are seeing this year until mid-March,” she said. “Last year’s flu activity was late in the season though.”

The hospital started tracking the number of cases in mid-December and started seeing an increase the last week of January.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of people with flu-like symptoms in the last few weeks,” she said. “Last week alone, we had 49 patients test positive in the ER prompting us to implement visitor restrictions.”

Symptoms of the flu include fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, runny or stuffy nose, cough, fatigue, headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

Anyone having these symptoms should not visit patients at the hospital, and instead should stay home from work or school and call to make an appointment to see a doctor, East said.

She urged people to get a flu vaccine now, if they haven’t already, to protect themselves for the rest of the season.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccines to become effective, so it could still help if someone gets the flu, said Shara Calhoun, public health nurse with the Jackson County Health Department.

The health department is still accepting walk-ins for flu shots at its office at 801 W. Second St. from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

“We’re not seeing a lot of people right now, but it could pick up this week, with the rumors of Influenza A,” said Shara Calhoun, public health nurse. “We still have plenty of vaccine that we can give.”

Most health insurance providers cover flu vaccines, so it shouldn’t cost the patient anything out of pocket, Calhoun said.

There are free flu vaccines available for children that are not covered by health insurance, Calhoun added. There also are some free vaccine shots available for adults without insurance, she said.

Officially, flu season ends at the end of March.

At a glance

Flu vaccinations are available at Jackson County Health Department, 801 W. Second St., Seymour.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday

No appointment is needed.

Vaccines are free for children not covered by health insurance. There also are some free vaccine shots available for adults with insurance.

Anyone wanting information may call 522-6474.

Tips for avoiding the flu

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or elbow.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Try to avoid close contact with people who are ill.

If you are sick, stay home from work or school until your illness is over.

Be careful if you work with or handle livestock.

For information about the flu, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu.

SOURCE: Jackson County Health Department and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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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.