With flu season entering the most active period for the virus, and the number of local emergency room flu-related visits increasing, the hospital has announced restrictions on patient visitors.
According to a release issued by hospital officials, Sampson Regional Medical Center has imposed visitation restrictions until further notice. With few exceptions, the mandatory visitation guidelines are hospital-wide and restrict visitors under the age of 18 or adults of any age who have fever of flu-like symptoms.
“The hospital is just beginning to experience an uptick in flu-related visits to our emergency room and medical practices,” Amber Cava, vice president of strategy and business development, said. “Imposing temporary visitation restrictions is a proactive measure in anticipation of increased flu activity in Sampson County.”
Restrictions are expected to be in place through March, but will be evaluated as the number of cases changes.
Sampson Regional has joined a long list of hospitals throughout the state, like Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, Rex Hospital, Wake Med Hospital and UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, who are implementing such restrictions.
As of Thursday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services had reported a total of 22 deaths statewide related to the flu, 12 of which had received the vaccination.
The flu season runs October through May, with the number of cases increasing in the colder months. The colder weather also brings an increase in other illnesses, like Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, but can also cause respiratory infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe illness. For young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems, both the flu and RSV could result in hospitalization.
“As with every flu season, RSV can occur at the same time, often causing confusion due to their similar symptoms,” Wanda Holden, RN, Infection Control Coordinator for Sampson Regional Medical Center, said. “Flu symptoms tend to develop quickly and are usually more severe than the symptoms associated with a cold or RSV. However, while symptoms for both illnesses are similar, they can vary in severity based on age and pre-existing conditions.”
Compared to last year, the number of flu-related deaths is down from 48, however nothing compared to the 2017-18 flu season when a reported 391 deaths were from the virus. This was the highest number of cases since 2009 when the state officials began tracking the number of yearly flu-related deaths.
“While you can protect yourself from the flu by receiving an annual flu shot, you can also help prevent both the flu and RSV by taking certain precautions,” Holden added.
Healthcare officials ask residents to decrease the chance of spreading germs related to the flu, RSV or other illnesses by avoiding close contact with those who are sick, washing hands often, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces on a regular bases and staying home if you become sick.
According to Holden, common symptoms of the flu are fever or feeling feverish, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose, headache, fatigue and vomiting or diarrhea. Individuals exhibiting any of these symptoms should not visit the hospital until they have been free of any symptoms for 24 hours.
Even though flu season is starting to peak, healthcare officials say it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.
“While we are seeing individuals with the flu present at the hospital and medical practices, individuals still have time to get the shot,” Holden said. “In addition to getting the flu shot, respiratory hygiene and hand washing are the most important steps people can take to help prevent the spread of flu.”
Anyone who visits the hospital is encouraged to perform good hand hygiene upon entering or exiting the facility or when coming and going from a patient’s room. Holden said hygiene stations are located throughout the hospital, stocked with face masks, tissue, and hand sanitizer.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.