By William K. Alcorn
With an increase in influenza cases and the height of the flu season beginning, area hospitals are asking residents who have the flu or other highly contagious illnesses to protect patients by not visiting them.
“Across the region, the rate of influenzalike illnesses has increased dramatically, judging from the high volume of patients seeking care at doctors’ offices and the increased number of related hospitalizations,” said Lyn Pethtel, Salem Regional Medical Center’s director of quality improvement and infection control.
Seasonal influenza is an illness that causes fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches. 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. People with influenza can be contagious for up to two days before symptoms appear.
The Ohio Department of Health says it is monitoring the situation carefully as flu activity is increasing, and the flu season often reaches its peak in January and February.
Also, so far this flu season, ODH has recorded 533 hospitalizations and no pediatric deaths related to the flu. Adult deaths are not tracked.
According to the latest report from the CDC, there have been significant increases in flu activity nationwide, with 25 states reporting widespread flu.
“Locally, our area is reporting a significant increase in flu and flulike cases, which are causing fever, respiratory symptoms and diarrhea,” Pethtel said. “While most people recover from these symptoms in a few days, hospitalized patients who become infected with these illnesses may develop significant complications.”
Rather than visit hospitalized patients in person, SRMC urges potential visitors who are sick to telephone the patient or send an e-card via the hospital’s website at www.salemhosp.com. People who feel they must visit a patient can request a mask from the lobby receptionist as they enter the facility.
“We are taking proactive steps to protect our patients. Our goal is to limit those at risk from being exposed to the flu,” Pethtel said.
At this time, Humility of Mary Health Partners is not restricting visitation at its facilities — St. Elizabeth Health Center, Youngstown; St. Joseph Health Center, Warren; St. Elizabeth Boardman Health Center; and HMHP’s long-term care facilities, The Assumption Village and Humility House.
“However, we are asking that people use common sense and basic public-health guidelines when it comes to visiting,” a HMHP spokeswoman said.
Also, HMHP officials said it is not too late to get the flu vaccine, which takes about two weeks to provide protection.
Akron Children’s Hospital of Mahoning Valley said all visitors, including family members, should be healthy and not be experiencing any of these symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches or chills.
No more than two visitors, in addition to parents/guardians, should be in a patient room at any time; and certain units of the hospital may have different visitation guidelines.
“If at all possible, do not to bring children to the hospital unless they are the ones in need of evaluation or treatment,” said Dr. John Bower, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist.
Akron Children’s has a mandatory policy for all employees to get an annual flu vaccination, recognizing this effort as another vital safeguard in fighting the spread of influenza, Dr. Bower said.