East Georgia Regional Medical Center has ordered temporary visitation restrictions due to an increase of patients with influenza.
“We have seen an increase of positive flu tests in the month of December thus far for outpatients,” said Erin Spillman, EGRMC marketing director. “The numbers that we are seeing is comparable to trends of positive flu tests across the entire state of Georgia.”
Spillman could not give the exact number of flu cases the hospital has seen this week, but pulmonologist Dr. Andrew Cichelli said the virus seems to have taken “an early start” this year.
“On a scale, if the (number of people with flu symptoms) was a 5 last year, it is a 6 now,” he said.
The new visitation restrictions are geared toward preventing the virus from spreading, he said.
“East Georgia Regional Medical Center has implemented new visitation restrictions to protect our patients, visitors and staff,” Spillman said. “The decision was made due to the increase of influenza-like illness starting at the end of November that has continued to increase.”
There has not yet been a determination as to how long the restrictions will be in place.
“The hospital will continue to monitor and notify the community when the number of flu cases has decreased to a safe level and restrictions have been lifted,” she said.
People are asked not to visit patients if they display any symptoms of the virus. Cichelli said the virus has an incubation period of four or five days to 12 days. The virus can be spread as easily as by touching something a person with the flu has touched, he said.
Spillman said flu symptoms include a fever of 100 degrees or more; cough, congestion, runny nose or sneezing; sore throat; body aches; chills; fatigue; nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Children especially are asked to refrain from visiting at this time.
“Family and friends under age 18 should not enter any patient care areas at East Georgia Regional Medical Center unless special arrangements have been made in advance,” she said. “To make these arrangements, please talk to your nurse.”
Those visiting patients should wash their hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting a patient’s room or patient care area, she said.
People most at risk for contracting the flu are children, those over age 65 and pregnant women, Cichelli said.
The virus strain most prevalent this year is H3N2. However, flu viruses are prone to change, and slight variations of the virus strain can develop. Getting a flu shot helps but is never 100 percent preventative, he said.
The current vaccination available covers the H3N2 strain. So far, there has been no evidence of the strain mutating, he said.
The easiest and most sure way to prevent getting the flu is to avoid places and people who may be infected with the virus. Symptoms may not be visible in the early stages of the illness, Cichelli said.
“In light of the widespread flu activity in our state, you can help protect yourself and your family by avoiding close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, keeping your distance from others to protect them,” as well as “covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and put your used tissue in the trash; cough into your elbow when a tissue is not available,” Spillman said.
Other tips to stay healthy include washing or sanitizing your hands often and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth because “germs are often spread by touching something that’s contaminated and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth,” she said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.