Spread of flu prompts visitation restrictions at region hospitals

An increase in influenza cases across the state has caused Fairview to put restrictions in place for patient visitations at its hospitals including at Fairview Northland in Princeton.

Dr. Timothy Peterson

Dr. Timothy Peterson

Mille Lacs Health System has also implemented restrictions for visitations at its hospital in Onamia, as well as its nursing home and the Lake Song assisted living facility. It is allowing only one person to visit a patient at a time and is not allowing children to visit. Also, the visitor must not have flu-like symptoms, including a cough or other respiratory symptoms.

Minnesota had 71 reports of influenza-related hospitalizations during the week ending Dec. 28, and 144 during the week ending Jan. 4,  according to Minnesota Department of Health.

Fairview personnel are screening potential visitors by asking them if they have been exposed to:

• Influenza, influenza illness or to anyone with a fever, cough or sore throat.

• RSV, a respiratory illness similar in symptoms to influenza.

• Whooping cough or to other respiratory infections.

People will also be asked if they (or their child, if present) have had either a cold or coughing, a sore throat, fever or strep throat.

If the person answers yes to any of the questions, they will be asked to not visit, and if they still want to visit, they will be told they must first speak with the registered nurse who is caring for the patient or the nurse in charge before visitation could take place.

The nurse is to then repeat the need to protect patients from influenza. Then after that, if the person continues to insist on visiting, the visitation policy will be initiated, and notification will be made to the charge nurse, nurse manager and/or infection prevention personnel. Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis.

Children under age 5 may not be allowed to visit with certain patients at this time, and visitors may be asked to wear a mask.

Vaccination

Fairview is urging that people get a flu vaccination to protect themselves and others. Preventative practices are also recommended including covering your cough, thorough and frequent hand washing, sanitizing and regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and staying home if sick.

Symptoms to trigger staying home are a fever (temperature greater than 100 degrees), chills, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue.

Fairview guidelines are that a person may return to work if free of fever for 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medications (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) and free of respiratory symptoms.

H1N1 strain

H1N1 is the most commonly identified flu strain in Minnesota this flu season. Fairview Northland physician Dr. Jeremy Peterson said that cases of influenza normally run from October to the end of April and that the peak time is December into February or March.

“In the last two weeks, we’ve noticed a lot more cases reported of inpatient and outpatient,” he said. “They (the MDH) really take note. If someone tests positive for flu, the tests are sent to the state to determine what strain of flu it is.”

Medical staffs want to know if it is a strain they have seen before and if it is covered by this year’s vaccine, Peterson added.

When the H1N1 strain appeared in 2009, no one had antibodies built up, so it was highly likely they would become ill if exposed to it, Peterson continued.

“Flu strains will evolve over time, and they have to come from somewhere,” Peterson said. “Typically, it is Asia because they are in close proximity to each other and it spreads from one to another.”

Peterson noted that the 2009 H1N1 strain “was not necessarily as severe as we thought it could be. We found that most who were exposed to it got sick. Now enough people have been exposed to it or have been vaccinated that it is not necessarily going to spread as quickly as in 2009.

“The good news,” Peterson said, “is that it is one of the strains is covered by this year’s vaccine. Most vaccines cover three to four strains.”

Peterson, reflecting on Fairview’s new restrictions for visitation to patient rooms, said the rule extends to labor and deliveries.

“Children under 2 are highly at risk for complication such as pneumonia and other diseases,” Peterson explained. Also, someone with heart disease and diabetes can have those symptoms flare up as well, therefore “if you have a fever, you definitely shouldn’t be visiting folks at the hospital.”

Peterson added that flu is not a case of throwing up or having diarrhea. Influenza is instead an upper respiratory condition that can “knock people down for several days,” he said.

“Some feel like they got hit by a bus, they hurt so. It’s profound how sick they can get. It’s not just the flu, it’s what it sets you up for. It weakens you and especially affects the very old and very young.”

Antiviral medications, not antibiotics, tend to shorten the length of symptoms, according to Peterson. He recommended that persons under age 2 or over 65 who have chronic systemic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes and think they have the flu should contact a doctor and see if they should be considered for treatment.

Peterson advised that people who are otherwise healthy can talk to a triage nurse and go over their symptoms. If nothing sounds life-threatening, he said, they should just stay home and get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids and take something like Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain.

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