Parents beware. For now, children are no longer allowed at McDuffie Regional Medical Center unless they are the patients needing treatment.
Cindy Prosnak, the hospital's infection control coordinator said as of Tuesday, Oct. 19, no one under 18 would be allowed in the waiting rooms or to visit patients. The move comes as flu season approaches and a shortage of vaccines affects the area.
Ms. Prosnak said much of the hospital staff has not been vaccinated yet due to the shortage. And because vaccines have not been fully available to the public, the hospital decided to institute restrictions as a precautionary measure.
In addition to children, MRMC officials are also discouraging elderly adults from visiting during flu season. Both groups are the most likely carriers of flu, and officials hope to stifle infection by asking those groups to stay at home.
"I think as proactive as we can be is going to be the best thing, especially in light of the shortage of vaccine," Ms. Prosnak said.
This is normal flu season procedure at MRMC, but last year restrictions didn't begin quite so early. Visitation restrictions didn't start during last flu season until early December.
"We started last year after the flu season got started pretty early last year and was starting to affect so many children, particularly out west," Ms. Prosnak said. "It hasn't started that way this year, and I hope it doesn't."
Other precautions that visitors and patients are asked to abide by are wearing a mask while in the waiting area or covering the mouth and nose with a tissue while sneezing or coughing. Hospital staff may ask some patients to sit in different areas while waiting.
Early visitation restrictions are not the only result of the vaccine shortage. It has also caused long lines at doctors' offices and health departments.
"We got 300 doses, and, of course, that went like hot cakes," said McDuffie County Health Department Director Virginia Bradshaw. "The thing is there will be vaccine available for the long-term care facilities -- the nursing homes and the residents of the personal care homes."
Ms. Bradshaw said the public will be informed when and if more vaccine becomes available.
Experts say healthy adults should forgo the vaccine this year. Ms. Prosnak said they should take normal preventative measures such as regular hand washing and avoiding infected people.
Another option is the nasal vaccine. Healthy individuals between the ages of five and 49 qualify for the vaccine given through an inhaler.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the United States, on average:
Anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of the population gets the flu.
Approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized.
Approximately 36,000 people die from flu or its complications.
Symptoms of flu include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be present, although they are more common in children than adults.
Complications caused by the flu can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may also get sinus problems and ear infections after having the flu.
Flu spreads from person to person through coughing and sneezing, and also by people touching something with a flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose. People with the flu can infect others beginning one day before they have any flu symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick. That means that you can give someone the flu before you even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick with the flu.
The groups of people who are at more high risk for serious flu complications include older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, including pregnancy.
Preventative Measures, from MRMC Infection Control Coordinator Cindy Prosnak:
If you are sick with any type of respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, or if you have a fever, please stay at home unless you are seeking medical treatment. You will help prevent others at school, work, church, and other public places from catching your illness.
Keeping sick children home from school, day care, and other public areas will also help prevent the spread of the flu.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of tissues in the nearest waste receptacle after use.
Wash your hands often or use an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.
Also wash your hands after touching surfaces or materials that may be contaminated with germs.
Remind children to wash their hands often.
Teaching and encouraging these healthy habits to children and others around you can be one of the best ways of preventing the flu virus from spreading.