As has become the norm during this time of year, healthcare providers at Providence Centralia and Providence St. Peter hospitals have noted a spike in flu symptoms, prompting the hospitals to invoke some stricter guidelines and precautions during this flu season.
“We’re trying to get the word out to folks to really take it seriously right now, because it is a serious issue,” said Chris Thomas, communication senior manager with Providence Health & Services in southwest Washington.
Until the rate of flu cases and symptoms drops closer to a baseline level, the hospitals are asking for those with flu symptoms to avoid the facilities, unless in the event of a serious case. Anyone with non-life threatening flu illness is asked to instead contact their primary care provider, or an immediate or urgent care clinic.
Angie Dickson, quality and infection prevention manager for Providence in southwest Washington, said at around September or October, they begin to closely monitor the numbers of positive flu cases and flu symptoms, and how they compare to the baseline number of cases that remains steady through the year.
Thomas said that baseline number is usually about three to four percent of their patients who exhibit some sort of flu-like symptom. Last week, it was 11 percent, he said. That was the stimulus to put the tighter precautions in place.
That number is not abnormal, said Dickson, adding that it’s about the same rate as the year before. Unfortunately, last flu season saw somewhere in the ballpark of 280 flu related deaths across the state, she said, adding that this season, too, has potential to be a nasty one. So far, there have been nine deaths in the state. One was in Thurston County. None have been in Lewis County.
Other precautions the hospitals are taking include increased signage with flu information, stricter cleaning protocols, screenings, fewer magazines in waiting areas to stop the spread of germs and hospital employees who haven’t gotten flu shots will start to wear masks. Thomas said about 8 percent of hospital employees are unable to get flu shots for one reason or another, such as an allergy.
Thomas said emergency departments are busy this time of year, and if folks with flu symptoms refrain from showing up, they help prevent the spread of disease, and save themselves the trouble of sitting and waiting while sick. Anyone with truly serious cases are still asked to come to the hospital and emergency department for treatment.
Such precautions typically remain in place for a few months — possibly stretching into February or March. Numbers are continually monitored, and those practices are kept in place until the numbers begin to drop back down to the baseline.
Dickson urged anyone who hasn’t gotten the flu shot yet this season to do so. It’s available at major grocery stores and drug stores, and is free with health insurance. Additionally, simple practices like washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and staying home when you don’t feel well can help curb the spread of illness, she said.