With the 2017-18 flu season the most active in recent years, Tanner Health System is implementing a visitor policy to help curtail the spread of the virus in the region while also protecting its patients.
The health system is asking for anyone who is not an immediate family member or significant other of a patient -- as well as anyone who is 13 or younger or who has flu-like symptoms -- to refrain from visiting patients at the hospitals in Carrollton, Villa Rica, Bremen and in Wedowee, Alabama.
The measures at Tanner are intended to protect patients from exposure to visitors who might have flu and prevent visitors from transporting the flu virus from the hospital into the community.
The 2017-18 flu season has been one of the most active in recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of Jan. 16, 46 states -- including Alabama and Georgia -- were reporting widespread flu activity. It is the busiest flu season since 2014-15, which had been the most active in recent years.
The decision to impose the visitor policy was made in consultation with organizational leadership and medical staff, including the health system's infectious disease specialists and infection prevention team. A number of other hospitals throughout Georgia and Alabama have also implemented visitor restriction policies.
"Flu-like symptoms often include a cough; extreme exhaustion and fatigue; headaches; fever; nasal and respiratory congestion; and muscle aches and pains," said Dr. Laura Larson, a board-certified infectious disease specialist with Infectious Diseases of West Georgia and medical director of infection prevention for Tanner. "Symptoms can be mild to severe. Some people may also experience vomiting and diarrhea and a sore throat."
Since Oct. 1, 2017, almost 4,000 people nationwide have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated illnesses, according to the CDC. Most of those hospitalized are age 65 and older, followed by adults aged 50 to 64 and children aged 5 and younger. During most flu seasons, those aged 65 and older and 5 and younger constitute most of the flu-related hospitalizations.
Tanner already has protocols in place to limit the spread of viruses and bacteria throughout its facilities. Its environmental services team works constantly to keep facilities and equipment clean and sanitized, hand sanitizer stations are found throughout the facilities and every Tanner employee is required to receive an annual flu shot.
"These additional protocols are another step in protecting our patients and our community," said Dr. Larson. "We realize it's extraordinary to ask people not to visit their friends and neighbors, and we know how important visits are for patients. This flu season is challenging us to look for new ways to stem the spread, and this an additional measure that can help keep more people healthy."
Additional safeguards that members of the community can take include getting a seasonal flu shot, frequently washing their hands with soap and water, and staying home if they're sick.