Flu season restricts visitors

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In what has become a yearly ritual, Horizon Health has temporarily imposed restrictions for hospital visits during the flu season.

The restrictions do not apply to the clinic side of the building and people with scheduled appointments should keep them.

“Those are all recommendations that come directly from the state. It’s been the same for several years,” said Amy Arnett, quality/infection prevention manager at Horizon Health. “It gets issued when the state reaches widespread status.”

Arnett was referring to the reporting regulations for keeping the Center for Disease Control (CDC) informed about the outbreak and spread of influenza. She added Illinois is broken into seven reporting regions and in the numbers game, not all regions are the same.

“Chicago may have enough numbers to make flu considered widespread in the state,” Arnett said.

Locally, the frequency of influenza cases has remained steady for the previous two to three weeks. All confirmed cases are from people seeking treatment at the EZ Care facility south of town on state Route 1. Arnett was unaware of any positive influenza cases at the clinic or anyone being hospitalized locally.

“We haven’t seen as much of an increase as they are seeing in other parts of the state,” she said.

Here are the new temporary rules and they apply only to people visiting the hospital, not the clinic.

No more than two visitors in a patient’s room at a time.

No visitors under the age of 18.

Only parents and grandparents may visit pediatric patients.

People with a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, a sore throat or a cough may not visit. Those symptoms, however, are acceptable for going to theto the doctors in the clinic or the staff at EZ care

Arnett said the rules have two purposes.

First, the modern practice of medicine only hospitalizes people who are truly sick and in need of extended medical care. These patients are generally weak and exposure to an influenza virus could have dire consequences.

The other side of the coin is if someone is hospitalized for influenza, that person’s interaction with others must be limited to reduce how many people are exposed to the virus.

Influenza is a respiratory disease and symptoms commonly include fevers and chills, cough, sore throat, a runny/stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue. This disease is especially dangerous for children and those 65 and older, however, people with asthma, heart disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system as a result of cancer, HIV or Aids must be cautious and not ignore these symptoms.

According to the CDC, 13 children have died nationwide, including one in Illinois, so far in this flu season; however, most of the flu related hospitalizations across the country are senior citizens. The CDC also notes that 80 percent of the children who died were not vaccinated against influenza.

Arnett said flu is a viral infection so antibiotics and other medicines will neither cure it nor make the victims feel better. There is an anti-viral medicine for use in the most extreme cases in an effort to forestall secondary complications such as pneumonia.

The best thing people with influenza can do is stay home, get bed rest, use over the counter fever and pain medications for those conditions, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and let the body heal itself with time. Those recovering need to avoid spreading the contamination by remaining home for at least 24 hours after going a full day without fever.

Influenza comes on suddenly after a short incubation period of one to four days following exposure.

“If someone has not received a flu vaccination, they need to do so,” said Arnett. “The CDC recommends everybody over six months old get vaccinated every year. It is not too late.”

The one caveat is vaccination for respiratory influenza does not protect against what many people call the flu with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.

“That’s an intestinal sickness,” said Arnett.