WellStar alters visitation policy as flu continues to spread

Published 6:59 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2018

WellStar West Georgia Medical Center has implemented temporary visitation guidelines to help reduce the spread of the flu virus, which continues to be widespread throughout Georgia and the United States.

Under the new guidelines, which went into effect Jan. 26, visitors have to meet several requirements to be allowed visitation rights. The sibling of a patient must be 12 years of age or older, non-sibling visitors must be 18 or older and any person showing signs of illness will be asked not to enter patient care areas.

“This is such a public building and so many visitors come in every day. Because we are taking care of the people they are coming into see, we’ve got to control it as best as we can,” said public relations specialist Patricia Rogers. “The number one we way to do that at the hospital is to limit visitation, limit the number of people coming into contact with the patients we’re caring for.”

Dr. J. Patrick O’ Neal, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in a news conference Wednesday that the flu-related death toll in Georgia has risen to 37.

Twenty-five of those deaths were of people 65 and older, according to Dr. Cherie Drenzek, Georgia’s state epidemiologist.

In Troup County, there have are no known flu-related deaths, but the numbers from WellStar West Georgia Medical Center reflect how prevalent the flu has been this year.

WellStar West Georgia Medical Center treated 254 total flu cases from Nov. 19 to Jan. 27, which includes in-patient admissions and emergency room patients. The majority of those — 227 of them — have been type A. The other 27 have been type B, according to numbers from Natalie Shelton, communications specialist with WellStar West Georgia Medical Center.

O’Neal said during Wednesday’s press conference that statistics are showing Type B is showing up more and more. Dr. Rod Duraski, medical director of hospital medicine at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, agreed with that, saying it seems like the hospital is starting to see more positive tests for type B.

“The first thing we saw was the influenza A that was coming through, and now that seems to be fading, and influenza B is coming through,” Duraski said. “We’re getting hit with both types this year. There’s a reason I think we’re seeing more flu this year. The vaccine is not as effective as it’s been in years past.”

Duraski said the flu shot is about 30 percent effective this year. However, he and other health professionals are still recommending people get it to help their chances.

“It’s still the best thing we have for prevention,” Duraski said.

Duraski said the normal flu test is only 80 percent effective in diagnosing Type A and 50 to 60 percent effective diagnosing Type B. A new test used by the hospital in recent weeks is much more effective in diagnosing both, which he believes is contributing to more positive type B tests.

Regardles of type, the flu basically has the same symptoms — fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

The severity of the flu varies from year to year, but local numbers reflect how prevalent it has been over the past two months. Just in the months of December and January, WellStar treated at least 230 patients for the flu. During the 2016-2017 flu season, WellStar treated only 77 patients for flu-like symptoms in that same timeframe. One year earlier, during the 2015-2016 flu season, WellStar didn’t handle its first flu case until the first week of February.

Duraski said the flu has affected people of all ages, but he said most of the hospitalizations he’s seen are of older people.

Dr. Kalyani Rajeev of WellStar Medical Group Pediatrics in LaGrange said she had not seen many patients for the flu until two weeks ago.

The youngest patient she’s had test positive for the flu was a four-month old.

“We’ve seen a good many patients in the last two weeks who have tested positive for the flu,” Rajeev said. “Out of all of them, we only had one who’d had the flu vaccine who then tested positive. The rest who tested positive had not been vaccinated.”

Under the new visitation policy, WellStar is asking patients to keep visitors to a minimum and to use FaceTime or Skype instead of in-person visits.

The hospital is also asking people not to visit if they have a cough and a fever, also keeping children at home if they are showing symptoms.

Anyone that does visit is asked to practice good hygiene before, during and after visiting by washing their hands or using sanitizers.

The hospital will return to normal visitation as soon as possible, depending on recommendations from physicians, infection prevention teams and the Center for Disease Control.

“Everyone is always understanding,” Rogers said.

“The area of the hospital that is most sensitive is family members wanting to see newborns. That’s always the hardest explain to visitors that want to see a brand-new baby that we are limiting the visitation, but people are always very understanding.”

Signs have been posted at the key entry points throughout the hospital, Rogers said.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is offering the flu vaccine in all district four county health departments, including Troup County. No appointment is necessary.

The district four public health office in LaGrange is located at 301 Main Street.