Hospital urges precautions as flu becomes more widespread
BY AMELIA HARPER
With the flu season in full swing and claiming more lives, Nash UNC Health Care is taking more precautions regarding the spread of germs at the hospital and is urging local residents to take steps to protect their health as well.
North Carolina public health officials announced that seven people died of the flu last week in North Carolina, bringing the state’s total of flu-related deaths to 20 since October, when the flu season began. During the 2016-17 flu season, there were 219 flu-related deaths in North Carolina. Most of those deaths were among elderly people.
Thousands of Americans die from flu-related complications each year — including bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, heart problems and the most serious, pneumonia, said John Griffin, a spokesman for Nash UNC Health Care.
Adults over 65, anyone with a chronic illness and children under age 5 are especially hard hit. So far this season, there have been 13 reported pediatric deaths related to influenza nationwide.
Nash UNC Health Care recently posted STOP signs for visitors at the hospital with warnings to help limit the spread of this contagious, respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, Griffin said. The hospital has also implemented stricter visitation policies to limit contagion.
Children under the age of 12 may not visit, and anyone feeling sick or having any of the following symptoms — fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat or body aches — is asked not to visit. Hospital officials are asking the public to honor this request to help protect patients and staff from further spread of the flu, a press release from the hospital said.
“Many tend to view flu much like the common cold, and that is a mistake,” said Connie Clark, manager of infection prevention at Nash UNC Health Care in the press release.
There are many different strains of flu, but only two basic types: influenza A and influenza B, Griffin said. The type B virus circulates widely only among humans — but type A can be transmitted to people by many animals, including ducks, chickens, pigs, horses and even rarely, cats.
“The Centers for Disease Control tells us that flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person-to person through droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” Clark said. “They may spread when people touch something with flu viruses on it and then touch their mouth, eyes or nose.”
For those who have not yet received their flu vaccine, Clark said it is not too late. Flu viruses change from year to year and should be repeated annually to be most effective. The vaccine is one the best ways to avoid the flu.
“The CDC indicates that the flu vaccines have a good safety record and cannot give you the flu, but there may be some mild side effects such as soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot was given,” Clark said. “Discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before taking the flu vaccine. The vaccine is also safe for pregnant women, and even lessens the baby’s chances by 50 percent of catching the flu for up to four months after birth.”
Clark also offers more tips to help avoid and stop the spread of flu:
- Avoid Contact. Minimize the time spent at indoor public areas where people are tightly confined, and try to avoid contact completely with anyone who has the flu. This means that people who have the flu should not go to work and should minimize contact with others as well.
- Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Keep in mind that virus-filled droplets from coughing and sneezing can also live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Also avoid touching facial areas.
- Know the signs of infection. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. It takes 1-4 days for flu symptoms to appear once the virus has entered the body.
Clark also said that people should take extra precautions once they realize they have the flu.
“The flu can be spread one day before any symptoms appear in the carrier and up until 5-7 days after the carrier becomes sick. Anyone recovering should stay home at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, and that’s without the help of fever-reducing medicine,” Clark said.