Valley hospitals restrict visits as flu hits early, hard in Ohio



An onslaught of influenza and flulike illnesses has caused area hospitals to ask sick people to refrain from visiting hospital patients until the flu season subsides.

Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron and Akron Children’s Boardman campus, Humility of Mary Health Partners facilities and Salem Community Hospital have enacted patient visitation guidelines and restrictions.

Officials with ValleyCare Health System of Ohio, which operates Northside Medical Center, Youngstown; Trumbull Memorial Hospital, Warren; and Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital, Howland, were unavailable to comment Friday on whether they had similar restrictions.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu season arrived early in Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Health reported 368 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations in the state during the week ending Friday. This compares with six in 2011 and 40 in 2010 during the same period.

Flu-related hospitalizations from Oct. 1, the beginning of the flu season, through Dec. 31, numbered 1,123. This compares with 71 for the same period in 2011 and 104 in 2010.

Seasonal influenza is an illness that causes fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches, said Lyn Pethtel, Salem Community Hospital’s director of Quality Improvement and Infection Control.

The virus that causes the flu is spread from person to person by droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air, or by handling items contaminated by an infected person, she said.

To help protect patients from influenza and other contagious diseases, SCH urges potential visitors who are sick not to visit hospitalized patients. Instead, they are requested to telephone the patient or send an e-card via the hospital’s website at Individuals who feel they must visit a patient also can request a mask as they enter the facility, Pethtel said.

HMHP said it has implemented basic public health guidelines to protect patients, residents, their families and caregivers at all its facilities in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, including St. Elizabeth Health Center, Youngstown; St. Elizabeth Boardman; St. Joseph Health Center, Warren; and long-term care campuses.

“If you do not feel well, do not come to the hospital to visit someone. Call them or send them a card. They will understand,” said Dr. Nick Kreatsoulas, HMHP chief medical officer. “You run the risk of infecting your friend or family member, or our hospital staff or other patients when you visit while sick.”

The HMHP visitation restrictions include:

No visitors under 14 because children are exposed to many more germs in schools and day care and can easily infect others, or catch the flu by visiting someone in the hospital with the flu.

The practice of allowing one family member to stay overnight in the room with a patient is suspended; however, exceptions may be granted in cases of gravely ill or minor patients.

Waiting rooms cannot be used for overnight accommodations to allow time to clean and disinfect waiting rooms each evening.

“We are taking proactive steps to protect our patients,” Dr. Kreatsoulas said. “We want to limit those at risk from being exposed to the flu.”

Akron Children’s Hospitals in Akron and Boardman, which also are experiencing increases in influenza cases, is reminding families and employees about its visitation policy, which includes encouraging visitors to come only if they are healthy and have no symptoms of illness, said Tina Bair, manager of infection prevention and control.

If families aren’t able to visit, Akron Children’s encourages them to stay connected with loved ones by sending an e-card via the website or communicating with them via social media.

Also, Dr. LeRoy Eberly at Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley said it isn’t too late to receive a flu shot.

To help prevent spreading the flu, he urged people to wash their hands well and often and to cough into their sleeve, not their hands.

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