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Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - Children, sick residents asked not to visit hospital patients to prevent spreading flu
Children, sick residents asked not to visit hospital patients to prevent spreading flu

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 7, 2015) – Hospitals across the Lowcountry are joining together to ask that children 12 and under refrain from visiting patients and that anyone with signs of the flu, respiratory illness or cold also avoid visiting those hospitalized.

Patients with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for contracting the flu and respiratory illness. These precautions also will help prevent visitors from becoming sick and spreading infection in the community.

East Cooper Medical Center, Roper St. Francis, Trident Health and the Ralph J. Johnson VA Medical Center have united to make this request. 

“It’s been said that children are champions at spreading germs,” said Dr. Tim West, chief of epidemiology at Roper St. Francis and medical director for infectious disease at East Cooper Medical Center. “We believe that limiting the number of children and sick adults to our patients will help reduce the spread of the virus in the hospitals and the community.”

A mandatory visitation restriction is not in effect at any of these hospitals, but infection prevention experts are urging visitors to follow these suggested precautions.

Medical University of South Carolina also is advising patients, their families and staff to stay home if they have symptoms of respiratory viral illness, such as fever, runny nose, cough, headaches and muscle aches. MUSC has not asked the same of children 12 and under, given its statewide role in caring for both adult and pediatric patients.

“We routinely screen for symptoms within individual units and ask that those not feeling well participate in good hygiene practices and wear masks while in patient care areas,” said Heather Woolwine, media relations director at MUSC.

Lowcountry hospitals are seeing a higher volume of flu cases this year compared to last year, but it’s unclear as to whether the flu season has reached its peak. Since Nov. 1, Roper St. Francis has seen more than 1,000 positive influenza tests across the healthcare system, with 415 of these cases arriving in the past two weeks. Roper St. Francis takes a number of precautions to prevent the spread of the flu, including providing and requiring free flu shots for all employees.

Since Nov. 1, Trident has seen more than 900 positive flu tests, with 387 of these cases arriving in the past two weeks.

“Trident Health encourages visitor restriction, as this year’s flu vaccine is not fully protective against the H3N2 strain that we are seeing,” said Dr. Ludwig Lettau, medical director of infection prevention and control at Trident Health. “Both healthcare workers and hospital patients are more susceptible to the flu than in years past. Restriction of children and those who may have a respiratory illness from entering the hospital will keep influenza out of our hospitals and reduce the risk to staff and vulnerable patients.”  

MUSC has seen more than 100 diagnoses of influenza at the medical center, and approximately 200 more cases in its outpatient clinics since the beginning of November, Woolwine said.

East Cooper Medical Center also has seen a significant increase in flu patients and is screening all visitors for the presence of fever. The hospital has a supply of “flu kits,” which include masks, tissues and hand sanitizer, in its Emergency Department. The hospital also is placing all positive flu patients in proper isolation.  

At the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, 17 percent of those tested for influenza this season were positive. Similar to other hospitals, the VA has offered free flu shots for VA patients and staff, placed hand hygiene stations throughout the facility and provided masks that ill patients can wear when presenting for medical care. 

A total of 20 lab-confirmed deaths related to the flu have been reported statewide since Sept. 28, according to the most recent statistics from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Hospitals officials said they recognize that patients’ needs vary and some visits, depending on the nature of a patient’s condition, are necessary. In those cases, officials urged visitors to wear face masks and wash hands often to protect themselves and patients.

Health officials also encouraged Lowcountry residents to get flu vaccines if they have not already done so. 

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