Flu clinics planned in Bel Air Friday and Saturday, Harford hospital visitation limits continue

Harford County residents who have yet to get their flu shots will have another chance to get them this Friday and Saturday.

The Harford County Health Department is offering a free vaccination clinic Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Harford County Council's chambers at 212 South Bond St. in Bel Air. Both FluMist and flu shots will be administered at the clinic.

Upper Chesapeake Health is offering a flu vaccination clinic at Harford Mall this Saturday – and this time, the inoculations will be free. The Upper Chesapeake clinic is part of a two-pronged prevention plan that also includes visitation limits at Harford County's two hospitals.

With the worst flu outbreak in years gripping the area, the vaccination clinic sponsored by Upper Chesapeake Health will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday inside Harford Mall near the Yankee Candle store. That's the same location as a clinic the organization held last Saturday.

Both FluMist and flu shots again will be available in limited quantities. Children, six months old and older, and adults can be vaccinated. For more information, call 1-800-515-0044.

Visitation restrictions were put in place at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace last week and will remain in place until the flu crisis has eased.

The policy is:

• No visitors who are sick;

• No visitors younger than 12 years of age;

• No more than two visitors at one time per patient;

• New visitation hours are noon to 8 p.m.

Faheem Younus, Upper Chesapeake's medical director for healthcare epidemiology and infection prevention at the hospital, said Upper Chesapeake's strict policies regarding anyone entering the hospital have kept the flu from spreading in the facility, as well as extending beyond into the community.

More than 2,000 people have been tested for the flu this season, with more than 12 percent testing positive for the sickness, which Younus said is well above that of a normal flu season, but consistent with what other hospitals in the region are reporting.

Not all of those people are being hospitalized. The hospitalization rate, however, is also much higher than in recent years, he said.

Unlike some facilities, Upper Chesapeake is not running short of either flu vaccines or testing kits, he said.

"On those two angles, we are meeting the needs of our patients, so far," he said.

Younus said all employees are also required to use hand sanitizer when entering a patient's room and, so far, Upper Chesapeake has 90 percent compliance with that, which is higher than other facilities.

"If someone comes in with a flu-like illness, we are erring on the side of safety," he said, noting anyone with a flu-like illness is in a special room.

The hospital has a nearly 100 percent record of preventing the spread of flu inside the facility, he said.

Health officer briefs council

During a briefing on the local flu situation given to the county council Tuesday night, County Health Officer Susan Kelly said the local health department is noticing an uptick in flu cases, which actually marks a return to the caseloads of past years.

"The last few seasons have been very mild and people have let their guards down," Kelly said.

"We are finding the older adults especially are getting the flu this year," she continued, noting there are "spot shortages" in some area pharmacies but "generally vaccine is available in the community."

"We do not know how much additional vaccine will be available," she said, urging residents to go to the public flu clinic the Health Department is sponsoring this Friday, instead of making phone calls to the county about where to get vaccinated.

"The flu vaccine is a good match, it's effective," she said, noting that while no vaccine is 100 percent effective, "it's the best protection you have against getting the flu."

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