Health & Medicine

UK implements hospital visitation restrictions to limit flu exposure

Boxes of flu vaccine at the Lexington-Fayette Health Department, 805A Newtown Circle in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, January 14, 2014. The seasonal flu is hitting hard with the first fatalities reported in Kentucky. People can received flu shots from 1-4 p.m. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Boxes of flu vaccine at the Lexington-Fayette Health Department, 805A Newtown Circle in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, January 14, 2014. The seasonal flu is hitting hard with the first fatalities reported in Kentucky. People can received flu shots from 1-4 p.m. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Visitor restrictions are now in place at UKHealthCare to help stop the spread of the flu.

Seasonal flu continues to plague Kentucky at an official "widespread" level, meaning more than half of the regions in the state are reporting high levels of the illness. One child's death has been reported in the state.

Restrictions for visitors were announced at a news conference Wednesday morning and will be in place at Lexington's UKHealthCare hospitals including UK Chandler Hospital, Kentucky Children's Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital. Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital also announced restrictions on Wednesday.

No one younger than 18 and no one with flu-like symptoms will be allowed to visit. Also, patients will be limited to two people in a room at a time, and visitors might be required to wear protective gear, such as masks.

UKHealthCare officials put similar restrictions in place last year when the flu season remained widespread for several weeks in a row. This year, flu has been widespread in Kentucky for two weeks.

Other health providers also are seeing the impact of the seasonal surge of flu.

"Flu is definitely present in Lexington and the surrounding areas at this time," said Kevin Hall, spokesman for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. So far, 41 people have been diagnosed with flu in Fayette County, Hall said.

Despite the outbreak, it isn't too late to get vaccinated, Hall said. It usually takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective. The health department has given 3,000 vaccines this flu season, he said.

Having the flu — with symptoms including a cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue — is never fun, but it can be particularly hard on the very young, the elderly and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma or heart disease.

Last week, a 10-month-old infant in Scott County died of complications from the flu. The state doesn't keep records of flu-related deaths in adults.

There's no question that people are suffering and seeking treatment.

"We are seeing incredible amounts of the flu," said Ruth Ann Childers, spokeswoman for Baptist Health Lexington. Since the first of the year, there has been a noticeable increase in people seeking care, especially at the Express Care clinics, Urgent Treatment Centers and primary care offices, Childers said. Those are the best places for people with flu-like symptoms to begin treatment, she said. If more acute care is needed, patients will be referred to an emergency room.

Childers urged people to see a medical professional's care if they are sick, even if they've had a flu shot.

"Although the vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu, early intervention is the best treatment," she said.

The state monitors flu strains that are most evident, said Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, the state epidemiologist for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. This year, the H1N1 strain of the flu — known most widely as the cause of the 2009 flu pandemic — is making people ill. H1N1 was problematic in 2009 because it was a new strain, few people had natural resistance to it and there was no vaccine at that time.

Now, H1N1 is among the expected seasonal flu viruses, and vaccines are crafted to combat it, he said. Getting the vaccine doesn't guarantee that you won't get the flu, but it's the best prevention available.

H1N1 targets the very young and the middle-aged, especially those with chronic diseases. So people in those demographics should get a vaccination, he said.

And follow this important piece of advice to keep the flu from spreading, Humbaugh suggested: If your kids are sick, keep them out of school. If you are sick, stay home from work.

  Comments