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Flu widespread in area; hospitals restrict visitors

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Due to influenza and influenza-like illnesses being widespread throughout Alabama, including here in Chambers County and in Lee County, East Alabama Medical Center officials have made the decision to put visitor restrictions in place in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

Effective immediately, visitors are asked to follow these guidelines:

•Anyone displaying flu-like symptoms should not visit anywhere in the hospital. However, most patients can be reached by phone, just dial 528 and the patient’s room number (example: 528-0000).

•Visitation in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Pediatrics and Childbirth Unit (including Labor and Delivery and the Mother/Baby department) is restricted to healthy immediate family members who are age 12 and older.

•Visitation in the Emergency Department (ED) is also limited, only two healthy family members (age 12 and up) per patient and the length of visits may be limited.

EAMC-Lanier Hospital has also set up similar restrictions due to the flu. Jennifer Seymour, infection control director at Lanier, said that no one under the age 12 will be allowed to visit in the hospital. Others with flu-like symptoms are also asked not to visit the hospital.

No siblings under 12 can visit the Labor and Delivery Unit and ICU visits will be limited to immediate family or significant others with no flu symptoms. “At the nurse’s discretion in exceptional or urgent situations (impending death of a loved one, etc.), a restricted visitor may visit and be required to put on a mask during visitation,” Seymour said.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is showing Alabama as one of ten states with “widespread” activity of influenza and one of six states seeing “high” levels of patients with influenza-like symptoms. At EAMC, there are currently 10 patients hospitalized with the flu.

Ricardo Maldonado, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and EAMC’s medical director of Infection Control, explains the situation. “As many people are aware, the state of Alabama is showing widespread influenza activity and also a very high activity of ILI (influenza-like illnesses),” he said. “Most cases of confirmed influenza have been identified as PH1N1 (Pandemic H1N1, formerly known as swine flu). As a result, at EAMC we are seeing people with influenza, some of who have been severely ill. The pattern is very similar to the cases we saw during the 2009 pandemic. The vaccine for this year should provide protection against the influenza viruses that are active currently, including H1N1.”

Dr. Maldonado states that testing for the flu can be tricky. “The tests available for the diagnosis of influenza have a sensitivity of less than 50 percent. Therefore, a negative test does not rule out influenza, this is especially important to know for people who have been exposed to confirmed cases.”

EAMC offered these tips for preventing and/or controlling the spread on influenza:

•Wash your hands thoroughly (and often) with soap and warm water.

•Cough or sneeze into your sleeve if a tissue is not available.

•Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands in public places.

•Use sanitizer wipes to clean surfaces (such as grocery cart handles) in public places.

•If you have the flu or flu-like symptoms, isolate yourself at home; do not go to work or school.

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