By NORA AVERY-PAGE
H&N Staff Reporter
In an effort to help prevent the spread of flu, Sky Lakes Medical Center has restricted visitations to certain areas of the hospital.
"We want to take the precaution to make sure we don't introduce disease by accident," said Sky Lakes spokesman Tom Hottman of the safety measure. Hospital staff has been keeping a close eye on the spread of influenza cases across the country, and while there have only been a few positive tests for the disease in Klamath Falls, they decided to put the safety measure in place before it potentially becomes more widespread, Hottman explained.
Under the visitation restrictions, effective immediately, anyone 18 and younger will not be allowed to visit patients in the Emergency Department or the inpatient care areas of the medical center, according to Hottman's press release.
"Our primary responsibilities are to care for acutely ill patients and to ensure the safety of the people who provide that care," said Chief Nursing Officer Annette Cole in the release. "One of the best ways we can do both is to prevent the spread of germs, and we can accomplish that by restricting visitors.
"The hospital's testing facility, which processes tests from patients with influenza-like symptoms at the hospital and from several clinics in the area, has seen a slowing increasing number of positive flu tests since December, Hottman said. There have been "less than a handful" of positive tests per week since the beginning of December, he said.
22 positive tests
The hospital lab processed 253 tests between Dec. 1 through Jan. 20, and of those, 22 were positive for flu-like illness, Hottman said.
The first positive test occurred Dec. 2, and the positive tests have occurred evenly in male and female patients, with about half occurring in patients 18 or younger, and approximately one-third occurring in patients over age 65, Hottman said.
During last year's flu season, the Sky Lakes lab saw a sharp, and short-lived, spike of positive flu tests in January, Hottman said. There were 16 positive tests in December 2013, a jump to 76 positive cases in January 2014, followed by just four cases in February, he said.
Flu is not a required reporting disease to Klamath County Public Health, said the department's communicable disease nurse Kathy DeVoss. While she said she has heard about some influenza-like illness activity in the county, she cannot say to what extent or the total number of cases.
According to the Oregon Health Authority's weekly Flu Bites report released Friday afternoon, the influenza-like illness activity in the state is minimal, but the geographic spread is widespread. Almost four percent, 3.92 percent, of emergency room visits across the state are for influenza-like illness, the report said.
The younger population is more likely to spread or contract the flu virus, according to the Sky Lakes press release.
The Sky Lakes leadership is sensitive to individual circumstances, so there will be case-by-case exceptions to the rule, Cole said in the release.
"The nurse in charge of the shift will be able to make those decisions when the questions arise," she said. "In those cases, visitors will be asked to take special precautions to minimize the risk to patients."
The release recommends people extend their sympathies to hospital patients by telephone or a card.
"Most patients recover better with rest. Having visitors sometimes isn't the best way to get rest," Cole said.
Individuals with flu-like symptoms — coughing, sneezing, sniffles, fever and the like — are strongly discouraged from visiting patients, she added. "People who are ill should be considerate and not spread their germs by visiting."
Hottman echoed the "if you're sick, don't share" sentiment, adding that while the visitation restrictions won't positively ensure safety, it does help.
Proper hygiene a must
Cole said the measures will help ensure the safety of patients, patrons and staff.
"It is our obligation to help those who are least able to take care of themselves, and taking steps to keep infections away from them is another way we can do that," she said.
Lindsay Hamilton, RN, infection control nurse at Sky Lakes, notes proper hand hygiene — washing with soap and water or using hand sanitizer — is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.
Sky Lakes has "cough kiosks" throughout the facility that are equipped with masks, tissues and hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of germs.