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Hospital patients at risk when ill friends, family pay visit

Published on Friday, December 1, 2017

By: Ruth Cummins

When friends and family who are ill visit hospital patients, they risk spreading the flu virus to a population whose illnesses might already make them susceptible to infection.

Due to an increased number of diagnosed flu cases being reported in clinics and at the emergency departments of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s adult and children’s hospitals, some visitor restrictions are being imposed during the remainder of influenza season at UMMC.

The changes are being made to address patient and staff safety. All patients will be allowed no more than two healthy adult visitors at any one time, in both private and semi-private rooms. Influenza guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children 12 and under refrain from visiting the hospitals, said Sheila Fletcher, the Medical Center’s director of infection prevention.

Sheila Fletcher

Children can “be ill and exhibiting no symptoms, but still be contagious,” Fletcher said.

According to the CDC, Mississippi led the nation in the activity level for influenza-like illnesses for the week ending Nov. 18. For that period, Mississippi, then Louisiana, were the only states at the highest end of activity, which is based on the percent of outpatient visits in a state due to influenza-like illness compared to the average percent of influenza-like illness visits that occur during weeks with little or no influenza virus circulation.

An influenza-like illness is defined as fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and a cough and/or sore throat.

All faculty, staff, students and visitors are being instructed to properly wash their hands and to help prevent the spread of germs by covering their mouths while coughing and sneezing. Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough and other serious respiratory illnesses are spread by coughing, sneezing and unclean hands.

“Frequent hand hygiene and controlling coughs and sneezes will help to prevent the transmission of flu and other viruses,” Fletcher said.

The Medical Center is following the influenza guidelines issued by the CDC, Fletcher said. Visitors who are sick or have flu-like symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, runny or congested nose, body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea – should check with the nurse in charge on the patient’s floor before conducting a visit.

Exemptions are allowed for end-of-life patients, or on a case-by-case basis determined by the patient’s attending physician and/or nurse in charge on the patient’s floor.

The CDC strongly advises people to avoid close contact with people who are sick, to stay home when they are sick, to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and to use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and warm water aren’t available for frequent hand-washing. The agency also advises people to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.