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Baystate hospitals change visitor policy

GREENFIELD — The influenza virus has forced Baystate Franklin Medical Center to make temporary changes to its visitor policy — including a ban on child guests and a limit to the number of visitors per patient.

The changes went into effect Wednesday at all Baystate Health hospitals in the valley, and at the health system’s medical practices.

Gina Campbell, regional director of quality, said the system’s senior leadership team wanted to protect patients, guests and staff from increased exposure to the flu virus — which has struck the state earlier and harder this winter than in years past.

“As we watched (flu) activities over the past two weeks, there’s been a dramatic increase in what we are seeing,” said Campbell. “We (asked), ‘What precautions do we need to put into place?’”

The new visitor policy — which will be restored to the original policy once flu season ends — prohibits visitors under 14 years old. Children are at high risk of bringing the flu into the hospital because their immune systems are still developing and they are often exposed to the flu at public places like schools, said Campbell.

The health system is also asking a person with flu symptoms, or someone who has been exposed to the flu at home, to not visit the hospital.

The changes also limit the number of guests for a patient: a recommendation of no more than two at a time.

And health system officials urge patients to come to appointments alone, although they can be accompanied by one person if absolutely needed. Patients should not bring children with them to their appointments.

Officials also advised visitors to wash their hands before entering or leaving a patient’s room.

If a patient has a contagious disease, a would-be visitor should instead consider making a phone call, they said. But if they do visit, they should wear protective items provided by hospital staff.

Visitors should assess their own health and not come to the hospital if they have a high risk of contracting an infection, officials said.

Similar changes were made to the visitor policy during the 2009 H1N1 “Swine Flu” pandemic,” said Campbell.

Early flu season

The flu is spread from one person to another by water droplets made when infected people sneeze, cough or talk. Symptoms include a fever, severe aches and pains, a dry cough and sore throat.

It typically goes away after three to five days. Medication is available to treat the flu at home, but further medical attention may be required if a person has difficulty breathing or shows signs of other illnesses, health officials said.

It isn’t too late to get a flu shot, health officials said. But it does take at least two weeks before the vaccine kicks in, and even then it does not have a 100 percent success rate, they said.

In the western part of the state as of last Friday, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 313 confirmed cases, compared to 18 at the same time last year — although those numbers represent a small sample of actual flu cases in the region.

It is the earliest peak in the flu season that state epidemiologist Alfred DeMaria has seen since 2003.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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