Flu outbreak forces limited visitation at St. Gabriel’s

Precautions may lead to prevention

By Liz Verley, Staff Writer

Sandy Holman, infection control employee health coordinator at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, stands in front a sign people see as soon as they enter the door of the hospital, showing what to do to fight the flu. Wednesday, St. Gabriel’s began limiting visitors to just two family members and no children under the age of 13.

Sandy Holman, infection control employee health coordinator at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, stands in front a sign people see as soon as they enter the door of the hospital, showing what to do to fight the flu. Wednesday, St. Gabriel’s began limiting visitors to just two family members and no children under the age of 13.

The public was notified Wednesday, that due to the outbreak of influenza, visitors at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls would be limited to two family members. No children under the age of 13 would be allowed.

“The patient will tell us what two family members will be allowed to visit,” said Sandy Holman, infection control employee health coordinator at St. Gabriel’s. “Only these two will be allowed for the duration.”

These steps, she said, were being taken to prevent the spread of influenza to both patients and employees.

As have several other Central Minnesota hospitals, St. Gabriel’s reached its capacity and has had to defer a few patients to other hospitals in the past few weeks, Holman said.

“This action was not necessarily due to the flu though,” she said.

“We are also asking those that come to the hospital or clinic for evaluation or treatment to please use the face masks that are available in racks by the doors. Just put one on. They are there to be used,” said Holman.

Influenza cases are up from the past few years, Holman said.

“The southeast corner of Minnesota has been hit the hardest and it is moving north. We have not seen it peak yet,” she said.

“The influenza season used to end in March. We are now finding the season does not end, but now comes in waves” she said.

If caught within 48 hours of the first symptoms, the flu can be treated with Tamiflu.

“While Tamiflu does not cure influenza, it may shorten and lessen the seriousness and symptoms of the disease,” said Holman.

Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) said this year’s flu season is severe and rivals the outbreak in 2009.

Of the 1,121 persons hospitalized so far this year in Minnesota, 62 percent of are people over the age of 65 and 15 percent are under age 25, the MDH said.

This compares to the 2009 pandemic when 12 percent of hospitalizations were individuals age 65 and older and 61 percent were 25 and younger.

The MHD has confirmed 27 deaths this year that are due to the influenza, or influenza-related complications. Twenty-three were people age 65 and older.

What is influenza (flu)? The MDH said that “Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that can be prevented by immunization. It is not the same as the ‘stomach flu.’ Flu is caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death.”

The symptoms come on quickly in the form of fever, dry cough, sore throat, extreme tiredness, stuffed-up nose and body aches. These symptoms can be severe and put one in bed for several days.

According to MDH, “A cold generally stays up in the head while the flu brings body

aches, fever and extreme fatigue. A person with a cold will usually keep up his or her normal activities, while someone with the flu will often feel too sick to do so.”

Holman said some people that are getting the flu are getting a secondary infection, such as staph, strep or pneumonia, which can complicate their recovery.

“Influenza is transmitted through droplets. There are ways to prevent it,” said Holman. “Staying home is one, but not many people can do that. But you can wash your hands, stay a distance away from those that are sick, send those away from you when they are sick and if you do become sick — stay at home.”

Recommendations from the MDH include getting vaccinated; avoid being exposed to others who are sick with flu-like illness and covering one’s nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or cough or sneeze into a sleeve. Clean hands often with soap and water or a hand sanitizer, do not share drinking cups and straws, clean commonly touched surface such as door knobs, refrigerator handles, phones, water faucets and do not smoke around children.

The MDH suggests that if a person thinks they have the flu, they should stay at home, rest and drink lots of fluids.

Children often need help keeping their fever under control. One should follow their child’s doctor’s instructions. Children should be taken to their doctor or emergency room if: they are breathing rapidly or with difficulty; have a bluish skin color; do not drink enough and become dehydrated; do not wake up or interact with others; is so irritable that they do not want to be held; or get better only to become sick again with a fever and a more severe cough.

Many people believe they can catch the flu from getting the shot. The MDH said this is not true.

Their fact sheet says: “Some people do get mild flu-like symptoms for a short time after being vaccinated, but this is sign that your body is responding to the vaccine and giving you protection. It is not the flu. Also, because there are many cold viruses circulating in the fall, it is possible that a person could be infected and become ill at the same time they receive the flu vaccine.”

Many people who have not had the flu shot are changing their minds, Holman said.

“Shots are still available at the Family Medical Clinics in Little Falls, Pierz and Randall. Sooner is better than later. It takes a couple of weeks to build the immunity up,” she said.

Coborn’s Pharmacy also still has flu shots available.

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