As flu season hits Harford County, its two hospitals are implementing a limited visitor policy to help prevent the spread of the illness and schools are feeling the impact.
Higher student absentee rates are expected at this time of year, Lindsay Bilodeau, acting manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools said.
Over the last few weeks, Harford schools are running daily absentee rates of 5 to 7 percent at the elementary level and 6 to 7 percent at the middle school and high school levels, Bilodeau said in an email.
“Although some schools have had a few days of 10 to 13 percent, so far none of these numbers have sustained over time,” Bilodeau said.
In addition to the complaints of colds, sore throats and stomach aches, there has been an uptick in “influenza-like illness,” which Bilodeau said school officials will continue to monitor.
“We are fortunate to have a school nurse in each school who is monitoring health data for their building. In addition to caring for sick students, the school nurses ensure that students with fevers and/or influenza-like illnesses are sent home from school,” she said. “Parents/guardians are instructed to keep those students home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. We are also encouraging hand washing and cough/sneeze etiquette.”
Parents and guardians are also advised to take flu symptoms seriously and consult their health care provider immediately. Signs of flu in children can include a high fever, chills, body aches, extreme fatigue, cough and sore throat. Unlike flu in adults, children may also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea with the flu.
The University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health announced Monday it is imposing a temporary visitor policy, with the goal of focus on the health and safety of its patients, staff, visitors and community at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, hospital officials said.
The policy stipulates:
- Visits are not permitted by anyone with flu symptoms, including fever, cough or sore throat;
- No visitors under the age of 18, unless they are a patient or the parent of a patient;
- Patients on droplet isolation (symptoms are sneezing, coughing) are limited to one designated visitor in order to avoid being exposed to new germs; please call ahead to see if you are on the list;
- All other patients are allowed only two adult visitors at a time;
- Those with physician appointments are asked not to bring children unless the appointment is for the child.
- All community support groups or events usually hosted at either UM Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air or Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace have been postponed until further notice.
“University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health takes flu season very seriously," Dr. Leonardo Girio-Herrera, UM UCH director of infection prevention, said in a statement. “We mandate all our team members to have adequate flu vaccination. Without it, team members are not allowed to provide care for patients. This year, we made the decision to provide a seven-day course of antiviral medication that helps shorten the duration of the flu for those highly vulnerable patients. The heightened public awareness and limited visitation are just two additional strategies for us to keep everyone safe this flu season.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported Maryland a “high activity” state. Nearly three out of 10 people tested for flu have the virus. Because the hospital needs to be more careful, strict visitation limits for the safety of patients and the public are in place.
"Limiting visitation and community events at the hospital is preventing the spread of the flu for those with weakened immune systems. Not only do we support the hospital in this decision, we also continue to work together to focus our efforts on the health and safety of Harford County residents. It's imperative to remember how quickly and easily the flu spreads and take proper precautions to avoid getting sick," Dr. Russell W. Moy, Harford County health officer, said.
People who think they or someone in their family has the flu are encouraged to get plenty of rest at home; drink fluids like juice, water or hot tea; and take an over-the-counter pain reliever for muscle aches and fever. People who think they need to see a physician are urged to call their family doctor first. If they do not have a family doctor, University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health partners with three Choice One Urgent Care Centers in Fallston, Aberdeen and Forest Hill. Visit http://choiceoneuc.com/ for more info.
The flu, also known as influenza, is a virus easily passed person to person without proper precautions. The flu can lead to serious medical problems when contracted by children, the elderly and individuals with multiple conditions or a weak immune system.
Patients with the following symptoms should visit the emergency department:
In children: high or prolonged fever; fast breathing or trouble breathing; bluish skin color; not drinking enough fluids (dehydration); changes in mental status, such as not waking up or not interacting or being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or has seizures; flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough; and worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes).
In adults: high or prolonged fever; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; near-fainting or fainting; confusion; and severe or persistent vomiting.
For more information and updates on the flu, visit umuch.org/flu.