Midstate hospitals are closing their doors to younger visitors because of influenza, which the midstate’s top health official said is spreading more than in previous years and may not yet have hit its peak.
On Monday, The Medical Center, Navicent Health; Medical Center of Peach County, Navicent Health; and Rehabilitation Hospital, Navicent Health, announced they are prohibiting visitors under the age of 12 to protect patients, visitors and staff, Navicent Health said in a statement. The health system has had similar restrictions for years.
“Our policies and actions are designed to protect those at greatest risk during the flu season,” said Dr. Fady Wanna, chief medical officer and chief clinical officer for Navicent Health.
The Coliseum Health System enacted restrictions on visitors under the age of 12 and people with fevers or respiratory symptoms several months ago, said Robin Parker, Coliseum’s vice president of marketing. Those restrictions have been standard operating procedure for the beginning of flu season for years, she said.
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“It’s for the protection of the children and the patients,” she said Monday.
Dr. David Harvey, a pediatrician who is director of the North Central Health District that includes many Middle Georgia counties, worries that cold weather could bring more people into close contact, spreading more flu. Infection rates are high, he said.
“The numbers are still on the rise. They’re higher than they were last year and higher than they’ve been in three,” Harvey said.
Harvey said people should hurry to get a flu vaccination: The shots and the FluMist nasal spray take about two weeks to reach full effectiveness.
“It’s not too late,” he said. “We still advise it. Realize, too, that you should stay away from people who are sick, wash your hands, cover your cough.”
The flu shot is recommended for nearly everyone over the age of 6 months, including pregnant women.
Dr. Michael Thornsberry, chief medical officer for the Coliseum Health System, said emergency room visits are up at Coliseum in downtown Macon and at Coliseum Northside.
“It looks like we’re going to end the quarter with a record number of visits,” Thornsberry said.
Those visits are made for all sorts of reasons, and it’s not clear how many people with flu-like symptoms went to the emergency room because their regular doctors’ offices were closed for holidays. Thornsberry hopes everyone gets the flu shot, noting it’s still about a month until the traditional peak of flu season.
“We know there is a significant improvement both in the survival rate for individuals who have had the flu shot as well as a decrease in severity of symptoms,” Thornsberry said.
Melinda Hartley, vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer for Houston Healthcare, said her organization is not putting visitation restrictions in place, but visitors are encouraged to take precautions, from regularly washing their hands to using masks, which are provided at the hospitals, emergency departments and clinics.
Hartley said influenza numbers are going up earlier than usual.
“The hope is since we’re seeing it earlier, it will leave us earlier,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people with flu-like symptoms stay at home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities. Everyone should wash their hands often with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand rubs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Navicent Health also is urging people with flu-like symptoms or those who recently had the flu to stay at home and avoid public areas, including school, work and theaters where they would be close to other people.
This year’s flu vaccines are a good match for some but not all of the strains circulating, CDC Director Tom Frieden said earlier this month. Anti-viral drugs can also help ease severity and duration of symptoms if given soon after symptoms appear.
Harvey said people with flu-like symptoms should see a doctor quickly to get the best results from the anti-viral medications.
“The chances of somebody getting the flu is very significant,” he said. “If we want to really be alert (and) smart about protecting our families and our society, forget about Ebola and worry about the flu.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.