As influenza hospitalizations and county-wide flu cases increase, Firelands Regional Medical Center is placing an even stricter restriction on hospital visitors.
Now, the only people allowed to visit is limited to healthy members of the patient’s immediate family or an immediate support person who are 18 years and older. The Sandusky hospital is also asking that caution be used with the number of individuals visiting to reduce any additional exposure to flu viruses.
“To protect the safety of our patients, we are asking people not to visit if they have respiratory symptoms or illness. In addition, we are using isolation precautions for patients who have influenza,” said Tami Binger, infection preventionist at Fisher-Titus Medical Center.
Patients and visitors aren’t the only ones affected by the flu season. Both Firelands and Fisher-Titus are requiring all employees who have not received a flu vaccination to wear a protective mask while working.
While it may seem overbearing to some, the cautionary steps are not unwarranted.
“Huron County is experiencing a higher number of reported positive flu tests and influenza-associated hospitalizations than the last 2 seasons,” said Huron County Public Health epidemiologist Sydney Cmar.
In fact, as of the latest county report, which tracked flu activity through the second week of the year, Ohio has seen widespread flu distribution for at least six weeks. “Widespread” is the highest category of flu distribution issued by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
During the second week of January alone, the county had 37 positive flu tests reported, up from the previous week’s 35. During that same period last year, only 26 were reported.
Six of those 37 individuals tested had to be hospitalized for the flu. Cmar said that means 29 people have been hospitalized because of the flu this season.
Cmar said she could confirm there have been no pediatric deaths in Huron County so far this flu season. The state as a whole is not as fortunate, however, as at least three young ones have been claimed by the illness this season, according to the ODH report issued Jan. 19.
Cmar was unable to say whether there were any adult flu-related deaths in Huron County. Fisher-Titus, however, verified there have been no flu-related deaths in Norwalk.
“Since the middle of December, we have had 22 influenza-related hospital admissions and no influenza-related deaths reported at Fisher-Titus,” Binger said.
“Influenza-related hospitalizations are trending higher and earlier at Fisher-Titus Medical Center this flu season. This influenza season has had more admissions than the last couple of years, and started earlier, but it might not be quite as active as the 2014-2015 season.”
Bellevue Hospital’s medical surgical and intensive care unit director Pattie Adams said Bellevue has seen a spike in bad flu cases as well.
“The Bellevue Hospital has seen an increase in flu-related visits to our Emergency Department, and more individuals being hospitalized due to the flu in recent weeks, especially among our elderly population,” Adams said.
Firelands doctor Michael Blank, who specializes in infectious diseases, said one cause for the severity of this year’s strains is just how easy it is to contract it.
“The flu virus is extremely contagious,” Blank said. “It can be easily spread through droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk, and it is even possible to infect others before you know you are sick.”
According to Blank, one study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that “it may be possible to spread the flu just by breathing — no coughing or sneezing required.”
Local hospitals are asking all not to visit a patient if you do not feel well or if you show any of the following symptoms: chills, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches or sore throat.
Hospitals are also encouraging anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to get the flu shot — it’s never too late.
“Although the flu vaccine can vary as to how well it works, people who do get sick are reporting milder symptoms if they have been vaccinated,” said Patty Martin, vice president of quality and patient satisfaction at Firelands.