If you have a loved one in a hospital or other medical facility, you know how much a visit means. When you’re hospitalized, you may spend the entire day in one room, so a familiar face offers not only company but also a feeling of connectedness to the outside world. This time of year, however, visiting someone who is sick in the hospital actually can cause more harm than good, particularly if you’re sick yourself. This is why it’s important especially during flu season to take the necessary steps toward infection prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seasonal influenza activity can begin as early as October and can continue through May, causing roughly 200,000 hospital admissions and almost 50,000 deaths each year nationwide.
“During flu season, you’ll notice that most health care facilities will institute polices that limit visitation,” said Mary Kathryn Cockrill from Blount Memorial’s infection control team sharing information from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). “This, of course, is designed to prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses. Many times, visitation polices will prohibit visitors younger than 12 because they can carry viruses without exhibiting any symptoms. Patients who are at a higher risk for getting sick include pregnant women; people who have chronic medical conditions, such as heart and lung disease; people who have compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients; people who live with or care for someone who is elderly or has a compromised immune system; and people age 65 and older,” Cockrill explained.
If you’re planning to visit someone with any of those conditions at a hospital, Cockrill says there are steps you can take to help keep him or her safe. “When visiting a health care facility, even outside of flu season, always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze,” she said. “Remember, also, to clean your hands often either with soap and water or an alcohol-based disinfectant. This is especially important to do before entering a hospital room and after you leave a hospital room. Also, avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, and remember to get your flu shot to avoid spreading the flu or contracting the flu virus yourself. Flu shots, of course, still are widely available, so it’s not too late to get one,” she explained. “If you’re not feeling well, you definitely should avoid close contact with loved ones who are sick or hospitalized, or simply stay home altogether. If you find yourself experiencing a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, it’s probably best if you don’t visit anyone who is in a health care facility,” she added.
If you do wind up visiting a loved one in the hospital, you’ll want to be aware of transmission-based precautions. “Talk to the nurse before entering your loved one’s patient room,” Cockrill said. “If the person is on transmission-based precautions, you may have to take additional steps – such as wearing a gown, a mask or gloves – before going into the room. This is critical to prevent the spread of germs from one person to another, particularly to those who are extra sensitive. This not only protects the patient, but also their caregiver, family members, other visitors and even health care workers,” she explained.