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Hospital, health agencies prepare for flu season
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Keeping flu in check
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lessen the spread of flu in your home:

  • Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible.
  • Have everyone in the household, especially the sick person, clean their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Use paper towels for drying hands after hand washing or dedicate cloth towels to each person in the household. For example, have different colored towels for each person.
  • Ask your health care provider if others in the household should take antiviral medications to prevent the flu.
  • Unless necessary for medical care or other necessities, people who are sick with an influenza-like illness should stay home and keep away from others as much as possible for at least 24 hours after fever is gone. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • If persons with the flu need to leave the home, they should wear a face mask and cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • If possible, sick persons should use a separate bathroom. This bathroom should be cleaned daily with disinfectant.
  • If possible, have only one adult in the home take care of the sick person. People at increased risk of severe illness from flu should not be the designated caretaker, if possible. Caregivers should avoid being face-to-face with the sick person.
  • Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in the trash. Wash your hands after touching used tissues and similar waste.
  • Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
  • Wash linens by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub right after handling dirty laundry.

For Northeast Georgia Medical Center, this fall is like any other flu season — encourage visitors and staff to wash hands and use tissues.

The global threat of the H1N1 virus hasn’t changed their daily commitment to avoiding infection, said Bette Meisch, RN, CIC. Meisch is the Infection Control director at Northeast Georgia Medical Center and is certified in her specialty.

"We look at treating the H1N1 essentially the same, as far as prevention, as the seasonal flu," she said. "Northeast Georgia follows (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines for all influenza precautions and stays abreast of these and revises these as CDC guidelines change."

During flu season, visitors will see signs throughout the hospital — especially in the emergency room and in-patient registration areas — telling visitors to wear a face mask if they have flu-like symptoms, Meisch said.

Monday marked the hospital’s first flu vaccination clinic of the season and all employees are encouraged to get not only the regular influenza vaccine but also the H1N1 vaccine, which is expected to arrive in mid-October.

"We not only highly recommend, but encourage our employees to participate to keep our patients safe, both clinical and nonclinical workers," Meisch said.

But preventing the spread of disease and infection is key to any hospital on a daily basis, Meisch said, not just during flu season. Hand-washing and environmental cleaning are the two methods the hospital uses year-round to prevent spreading germs, she said.

As is the case every flu season, hospital officials also have started restricting visits from children ages 15 years and younger. Children will be restricted from visiting all inpatient units at the hospital, effective immediately. In addition, siblings of newborns will be able to visit in the mother’s room only on the Labor and Delivery and Mother/Baby units.

"We regret any inconvenience this may cause patients, families and visitors, but we hope they understand that we must protect the safety of our patients," Meisch said.

The restriction will be lifted when flu season passes.

The District 2 Public Health, which covers several counties in Northeast Georgia, also is working to educate the public about keeping healthy during flu season. But it has stepped up some efforts this year in response to concerns about the H1N1 virus.

District 2’s Dave Palmer said the agency has been educating area folks about the basics of hygiene — covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands — that will help prevent the spread of flu.

The agency also has distributed posters about flu-prevention tips to schools and other organizations in the area and also has talked with schools, colleges, civic groups and other organizations on ways to keep the flu in check.

The agency also is encouraging folks to get the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine, both of which will be available at the health department. Like the hospital, public heath employees also are being encouraged to get the vaccines, Palmer said.

Also on Monday, federal officials announced a preparedness guide to help small businesses in planning for the H1N1 flu.

"Small businesses play an essential role in our national effort to prepare for all disasters and emergencies — including the H1N1 flu," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. "This guide will help America’s small businesses maintain continuity of operations and resiliency as the fall flu season approaches."

Outbreaks of H1N1 flu are occurring now across the country and will likely coincide with the return of seasonal flu this fall and winter. A large outbreak could mean more employees out sick, effecting the ability to conduct business, and federal officials encourage business owners and managers to plan for that possibility.

So far, nine people have died in Georgia of confirmed H1N1 virus, according to the Georgia Department of Community Health.