Franciscan limits visitors as preemptive strike against flu - January 4, 2019

Courtesy of The Post-Tribune

Written by Michelle L. Quinn

Holiday houseguests may have left, but flu — the one no one wants — is in season and at least one Northwest Indiana health-care system is working to shorten its visit.

Franciscan Health Hospitals announced Jan. 2 restrictions on visitors to stem the spread of influenza. Visitors to hospitals in Crown Point, Dyer, Hammond and Munster will be limited to two per patient, and no one under the age of 16 will be allowed, Franciscan spokesman Robert Blaskewiecz said. In Crown Point, only parents and siblings will be allowed to visit moms who’ve given birth, and only parents and grandparents who show proof of vaccinations more than two weeks prior will be allowed to visit the neo-natal intensive care unit.

And if you’re visiting, you may want to bring your own reading material since the hospitals will be removing theirs.

“We just received an email from our infection prevention team about fomites, which are objects that are likely to spread infection, such as elevator buttons and doorknobs, but also magazines and newspapers,” Blaskiewicz said.

Hospital employees who haven’t been vaccinated will be required to wear masks, and patients exhibiting any kind of respiratory symptoms must wear masks upon admission and when they leave their rooms.

“If individuals are sick, they shouldn’t be visiting,” said Chris Shakula, infection preventionist at Franciscan Health Crown Point, in a release.

Blaskiewicz said the hospitals have been following the trends on the Center for Disease Control website, and while Franciscan’s starting to see flu cases, the numbers aren’t anywhere near epidemic levels.

“It’s flu season, and we just want to be out in front of it,” he said. “Franciscan Michigan City hasn’t instituted the protocols yet.”

Neither has Methodist Hospitals, according to spokeswoman Evelyn Morrison, but officials there are keeping an eye on flu cases as well.

“Our efforts are focused on proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette, flu vaccinations, and proper mask use,” Morrison said via email. “If you have a fever, cough, headache or body aches, please consider the safety of your loved ones and visit by phone.”

Vincent Sevier, Methodist’s vice president and chief quality officer, added: “We continue to monitor our incidence of flu cases, and as we see an increased occurrence of cases, we will respond accordingly to decrease the transmission of the virus.”

A variant of the H1N1 virus, or so-called “swine flu,” appears to be the culprit in Region 5, which includes, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio, according to the CDC website.

“People who have been infected with variant viruses have had symptoms similar to the symptoms of regular human seasonal influenza,” the website reads. “These include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people also have reported runny nose, sore throat, eye irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”

Also, with the flu, symptoms tend to be worse, come on suddenly and can last as long as two weeks, Blaskiewicz said.

Stopping the flu rests on tried-and-true practices: Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, he said, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes. Also, disinfect any surfaces that could become contaminated.