Bayhealth adjusts visitation policy as flu cases increase


DOVER — As the outside temperatures around Delaware have been decreasing, the number of people being stricken with the flu statewide has been increasing.

It is those burgeoning influenza numbers that has led Bayhealth to enact a temporary flu visitation policy for its hospitals in Kent County: Kent General in Dover and Milford Memorial.

Beginning Thursday, Bayhealth officials started discouraging guests under the age of 16 from visiting anyone at its pair of Kent County hospitals.

In addition, Bayhealth recommends that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms avoid visiting someone at its hospitals.

Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford has implemented similar visitation guidelines.

“We are always driven to protect our patients,” said Bayhealth’s Infection Prevention Manager Kelly Gardner. “This temporary flu visitation policy is being enacted to protect our patients from getting the flu or other illnesses.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding. Our main goal is to keep our patients and our visitors safe.”

Visitation to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Bayhealth Kent General is restricted to parents, guardians and grandparents. Exceptions will be made for visitation on a case-by-case basis.

This flu season appears to be picking up speed as fast as germs can be spread through a sneeze.

Just last week, the Division of Public Health reported the first flu-related deaths of the 2018-19 flu season.

A 65-year-old man who was infected with Influenza A passed away in late December, making him the first person to die due to flu complications this season.

In addition, a 73-year-old man and a 77-year-old woman, both also infected with Influenza A, passed away.

All three individuals were Sussex County residents who had underlying health conditions.

“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have died from flu-related complications,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the DPH. “This is an unfortunate and solemn reminder that the flu can be deadly.”

As of Dec. 22, 2018, the most recent date for which statistics are available, there were 461 laboratory-confirmed cases of flu in Delaware while the actual number of cases circulating statewide is likely much higher.

Additionally, 80 people have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms since the start of this flu season. These numbers are an increase from the 2017-18 season, when at the same time, there were 225 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza and 63 hospitalizations.

Single-week numbers of laboratory-confirmed flu cases have also started to increase in Delaware.

A total of 179 lab-confirmed flu cases were recorded between Dec. 16 and Dec. 22, 2018, compared to 95 laboratory-confirmed cases reported between Dec. 9 and Dec. 15, 2018.

Bayhealth officials are requesting that anybody experiencing flu-related symptoms and are seeking medical treatment to use the items found at its respiratory etiquette stations, including hand sanitizer, face masks and tissues.

Dr. Rattay requests that those who have not been vaccinated against influenza to get their flu shots.

“If you haven’t already, please take the time to get a flu vaccine and make sure everyone in your family has received theirs, as well,” Dr. Rattay said. “The flu vaccine lowers your chances of getting the flu and can lessen the severity of symptoms if you do fall ill. Also, be sure to take any antiviral medication as your doctor prescribes.”

DPH will be administering free flu vaccines in the basement floor library in Legislative Hall at 410 Legislative Avenue in Dover, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Members of the public who wish to attend the flu clinic must go through security. Additionally, flu vaccines continue to be available at many pharmacies and grocery stores and through primary care physicians and some specialists.

Flu symptoms come on suddenly and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills and fatigue.

Some people get complications including pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections. People with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and asthma are more susceptible to catching the flu.

Dr. Rattay added that while there were more than 9,000 flu cases in Delaware last year — a record that included 1,200 that that led to hospitalizations and 35 that led to death from flu complications — that doesn’t automatically mean this flu season will be as bad.

“This does not necessarily mean we will have a rough flu season like last year,” she said. “We could have a heavy caseload at the start and see cases even out. The flu is unpredictable, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated every year, since we never know what kind of flu season we will see.”

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