Hospitals restrict visitors due to the flu

From staff reports

PARKERSBURG — Camden Clark Medical Center has put in place a policy restricting visits to patients by those who have the flu or suspect they are experiencing symptoms of the flu.

“We have a policy that any time we have greater than 10 percent of all the flu testing we do come back positive or if we have three or more patients admitted at one time who are positive for flu we put restrictions in place to curtail the spread and protect visitors and patients,” said Shelly West, R.N., patient safety officer and infection control surveillance nurse for Camden Clark Medical Center.

Those restrictions include not permitting anyone under age 12 to visit patients, restricting patients to receiving two visitors at a time and asking all visitors to perform hand hygiene on their way in and out of the hospital.

“We have masks available and hand sanitizers available throughout the hospital and at each main entrance,” West said. ” But, we ask if you do have the flu or even think you have symptoms, that you just not visit, if possible.”

There are exceptions for those in “compassionate circumstances,” West said, such as family members who have been notified by a doctor that they should be in place for a patient in hospice or other circumstance “where patient survival is in serious question and the physician feels the family needs to be called in.

“We would absolutely allow that,” West said. Such decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis.

Hospital officials are requesting everyone else respect the restrictions.

West said the time between creation of annual flu vaccines and their distribution can allow for mutations.

“Any strain of a virus can mutate,” she said. And what many patients are experiencing “is probably a mutated strain the flu vaccine doesn’t cover. There are just so many different strains.”

However, “there’s a strain A and B every year, we cover; those are the two most common that cause the spread of the virus.”

West said, speaking from her experience as a nurse, creation of the vaccine is not always an exact science, and depending on the type of virus, some can mutate very quickly.

“No one can anticipate that,” she said.

Meanwhile, patients are not being restricted from attending appointments with their doctors or coming in for tests.

“And we’re definitely not saying stay away from the emergency room,” West said. “We’re just asking stay away from patients as a visitor.”

In fact, those who believe they are experiencing symptoms of the flu — including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, head aches and fatigue — should also consider staying home from work or away from the general public, if possible.

“It might actually feel like a cold starting out,” she said. “But if you progress to fever and body aches, you should probably get the test done to be sure.”

Tests for the flu can be conducted at the hospitals or most urgent care facilities or doctors’ offices, West said.

Treatment varies from individual primary care physicians, but West said some will recommend the prescription Tamiflu, if it is caught within the first couple of days.

“Otherwise, rest, hydrate, stay home,” and heed the advice of your doctor, she said.

Those who feel they have “done all the right things after a diagnosis, and symptoms still persist or worsen — especially if they have a chronic condition like asthma, bronchitis (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or congestive heart failure– please come back to the emergency room or your doctor,” West said. “People can dehydrate pretty quickly or conditions can worsen.”

Symptoms that do not improve after an average of four days could be a concern, according to West, though she stresses that number is just an average.

“Any time conditions worsen, especially in the elderly, don’t leave them untreated,” she said. “Flu can worsen into very serious conditions like pneumonia. And as with any illness, take extra care with the very old or very young. Take extra precaution.”

For those who are still healthy, the most effective, easiest way to combat the spread of any disease, including the flu, is frequent hand-washing.

“And then being aware of your environment,” West said. “Wipe down door knobs, phones, the handles of carts where you shop …

“If you do touch what you think might be a contaminated surface, try to keep your hands away from your face.”

Other hospitals are taking similar precautions. The Marietta Memorial Health System this week announced it is currently experiencing a high volume of flu cases.

The hospital, for the health and safety of patients, visitors and community, is currently restricting visitors. The restrictions are two visitors per patient, no visitors under the age of 18 and no visitors with flu-like symptoms.