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Flu epidemic declared in Kentucky

KDMC, OLBH taking precautions

ASHLAND — Two local hospitals announced on Friday that because of the flu epidemic, they are putting restrictions on visitors at their facilities.

King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, Kentucky and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell, Kentucky have implemented temporary measures aimed to help prevent the spread of the flu including visitors may be issued masks or other protective clothing, no visitors under the age of 12, and only two visitors will be permitted in a patient’s room at one time.

The hospitals are also not allowing visitors with any symptoms of flu-like illness, such as cough, sore throat, fever, chills, runny nose, body aches, nausea/vomiting, or diarrhea. Additional restrictions may be in place in special care units such as pediatrics, critical care and oncology units. The measures are part of an effort to protect patients, families, and hospital staff.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Department of Public Health declared an influenza epidemic since the state is in its sixth week of widespread flu activity, meaning at least half the state has reported outbreaks or flu-like activity. There have been 65 reported deaths, three of which were children.

During the 2016-2017 season, the state reported 76 deaths. The season before that, there were 25.

“As healthcare providers, our goal is to protect the community from disease. Data suggests infected persons can transmit the virus as much as 24 hours before displaying symptoms. This community-wide recommendation helps protect our patients, visitors and staff from exposure to flu, even before symptoms occur,” said OLBH CEO Kevin Halter in a press release.

“Patient safety is our number one concern,” said King’s Daughters President/CEO Kristie Whitlatch in a press release. “To help their loved ones in the hospital, as well as other patients and our health care team, we are asking any visitor with flu-like symptoms to stay home.”

Visitors are encouraged to wash their hand frequently while in the hospital to reduce the spread of infection. The flu can cause serious complications and even death, especially in the very young, the elderly, and those with certain existing medical conditions. These measures are being taken in an effort to protect patients, families, and hospital staff.

Symptoms of flu include fever and respiratory illness symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The recommendation to wear a mask when entering healthcare facilities will remain in effect during the flu season while the disease is at widespread levels.

Acting Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Jeffrey D. Howard said that widespread influenza activity means that people are likely to encounter one or more persons shedding influenza virus at work, at school, while shopping, while traveling, at athletic or entertainment events, and in places of worship.

“A person who will develop influenza illness actually can transmit the virus to other persons beginning one day before their illness begins,” he said.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health said the most common flu type identified in Kentucky, and in 78 percent of the 65 influenza-associated deaths this season, is influenza A. Of the deaths so far, 7 percent have occurred in previously healthy individuals with no reported risk factors for severe illness. Healthy persons with influenza also will usually miss three to five days of work, school, or other usual activities, and sometimes may miss seven to 10 days.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.