Flu activity prompts hospital, nursing home visitor restrictions

January 5th, 2018

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Jan. 5, 2018) – Allen County public health officials are recommending temporary visitation restrictions for area hospitals and nursing home facilities in response to increased flu activity.  As of Dec. 29, 2017, the Indiana State Department of Health reports there have been nine influenza-associated deaths in Indiana this flu season.

Due to a sudden rise in influenza activity, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan is recommending that healthcare facilities impose the following restrictions to help protect patients, visitors and staff:

  • Anyone coming into the healthcare facility seeking treatment who has cold or flu-like symptoms (such as fever, cough or muscles aches) should wear a mask while in public areas of the facility, including waiting rooms.
  • No visitors under the age of 18 and no visitors of any age with flu-like symptoms should be allowed to visit patients.
  • Visitors should be limited to two essential adults (at least 18 years of age) per patient – essential adults could include designated family members, spouse/domestic partner or spiritual counselors.
  • Anyone who is not allergic to the flu vaccine should be vaccinated.

McMahan says these recommendations were prompted by the severity of this year’s flu season. The most common strain of the virus reported so far this season is a version of influenza A (H3N2) which has mutated and is not a good match with the vaccine.

In the past, this strain has been linked to higher rates of hospitalization and death, especially for those at high risk for complications, which includes the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma or heart problems.

The visitor guidelines are similar to those implemented in previous years and healthcare facilities may implement stricter restrictions in certain areas as needed. Visitors should call the hospital or nursing home before arriving if they have any questions about restrictions.

While we are experiencing widespread influenza transmission, it’s important that we do not unintentionally expose patients who are in the hospital, in a nursing home or any other confined setting to the flu.  Influenza can spread to others during the incubation period – which is the time after you have been exposed and while the virus is actively replicating in your body – but you have no symptoms yet.  That’s one of the reasons why flu can spread so quickly in a community and why we want to limit visitors to hospitals, emergency rooms and other places sick people go for care.

“Although you may still feel ‘healthy’ and want to check on a loved one in the hospital, during that visit you could be potentially exposing them to a virus they may not be able to recover from,” McMahan said. “So during this time of increased flu activity, please call or send a card to share your good thoughts to those who are ill.  And if you are sick with a fever – stay home – please don’t go to work!”

In addition to the temporary restrictions on visitors, the department also recommends that all residents do the following to minimize flu transmission:

  • Get vaccinated. All residents 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against influenza, pneumonia (if recommended) and pertussis (if recommended) unless there are known allergies to these vaccines. Despite the vaccine not being a good match with one of the circulating flu strains, health officials continue to advise residents to get vaccinated against the flu, as it offers protection against other circulating strains and is expected to reduce the severity of illness.
  • Stay home if you are sick. All residents experiencing fever and muscle aches should stay from school, work, shopping or other social gatherings until they have no fever for 24 hours without the benefit of fever reducing medications.
  • Wash your hands frequently.Use soap and warm water whenever possible; if not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean hands.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue.If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
  • Wear a mask if needed. Patients with cough or fever seeking treatment at a healthcare facility should ask for a mask to wear.

You can get your influenza vaccination at many local pharmacies. Visit http://www.heroesplan.org/locations/ to find one near you. You may also schedule an appointment at the Fort Wayne-Allen County Dept. of Health Medical Annex, visit an area urgent care clinic or your primary care provider’s office.