Hospitals lift restrictions as flu epidemic ebbs

By William K. Alcorn


Humility of Mary Health Partners has lifted strict visitation restrictions at its facilities as the number of hospitalizations attributed to the flu lessen locally and nationally.

But HMHP, Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, Salem Community Hospital, Sharon Regional Health System and UPMC Horizon hospitals have left some visitation guidelines in place.

“Due to the decrease in the number of influenza cases in our area ... Humility of Mary Health Partners lifted the visitation restrictions enacted in mid- January,” said Dr. Nick Kreatsoulas, HMHP chief medical officer.

“However, we still ask anyone who isn’t feeling well or has flulike symptoms to refrain from visiting until they are feeling better and are symptom free,” he added.

UPMC Horizon in Mercer County continues to have signs posted at all entrances advising visitors that if they have any signs of the flu or a cold, such as fever, headache, sore throat, runny nose or cough, they should not visit patients in the hospital during flu season. Those measures help keep patients safe and allow staff to provide them with the best care possible, said Erin Palko, UPMC Horizon public relations manager.

Likewise, Sharon Regional Health System asks people who have a cough or flu symptoms to refrain from visiting individuals in the hospital, and has installed more alcohol hand-gel dispensers to encourage use and limit the spread of illness, a hospital spokesman said.

The Ohio Department of Health, which tracks flu activity across the state, said that as of Feb. 2 the incidence of flu-related illnesses is lessening, but the number of hospitalizations remains significantly higher than at this time last year and 2011.

For the week ending Feb. 2, there were 367 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations, including 82 in the Northeast Region which includes the Youngstown-Warren area. The percentage of emergency department visits with patients exhibiting flu-related symptoms continued to decrease for the fourth week, according to the ODH report.

So far this flu season, two confirmed influenza- associated pediatric deaths have been reported in Ohio.

Meanwhile, medical officials nationwide say the worst of the flu season appears to be over.

The number of states reporting intense or widespread flu dropped again last week, U.S. health officials said Friday.

The season started earlier than normal, spiking first in the Southeast and then spreading. But now, by some measures, flu activity has been ebbing for at least four weeks in much of the country. Flu and pneumonia deaths have been dropping for two weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

It’s been nine years since a conventional flu season started like this one. That was the winter of 2003-04 — one of the deadliest in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths.

On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC. Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older.

CONTRIBUTOR: Associated Press

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