The health system is asking anyone younger than 18 and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to refrain from visiting hospital patients at this time. Flu-like symptoms include cough, fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue. Additionally, Ballad Health is requesting patients limit their visitors to two guests at a time.
“Flu rates are already high, and we don’t think we’re anywhere near the peak yet,” said Jamie Swift, Ballad Health’s corporate director of Infection Prevention. “We’re implementing these restrictions at our hospitals to protect our patients and our community as a whole.”
Since Sept. 26, Ballad Health reported it has recorded 270 flu cases, with the rates nearly doubling from Dec. 1 to Dec. 14. Swift also noted both Influenza A and Influenza B are circulating throughout the region, even though it is rare for Influenza B to be prevalent this early in the season.
While symptoms of Influenza A and B appear similar, Influenza B typically causes more severe illness in children, which is why Ballad Health’s visitation restrictions are designed to limit potential flu exposure to healthy children.
“Last year, we didn’t have 100 flu cases in a week until the third week of January; this year, that happened in the second week of December,” Swift noted. “The quickly increasing numbers match the trends happening regionally and nationally. This is shaping up to be an early and severe flu season across Tennessee, Virginia and other Southern states.
“We fully expect our numbers to get much higher before they start declining.”
Ballad Health said monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control shows seasonal flu activity in the U.S. has been elevated for five weeks and continues to increase, with 2.6 million flu illnesses diagnosed, 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths from flu so far this year.
“The flu is a potentially fatal virus, especially for small children and the elderly, and it can spread even before symptoms arise,” Swift said. “If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, please get one. Now is the time.”
Ballad Health said a flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, especially pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a chronic health condition or weakened immune system.
Prior to implementing restricted visitation, Ballad Health said its hospitals were already employing a number of other precautions, including mandatory flu shots for team members. The system also emphasizes appropriate hygiene precautions for team members, patients and visitors, including frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes.
Flu shots are available at Ballad Health primary care offices, Ballad Health pharmacies and other major pharmacies. To find a location or learn more, please visit www.balladhealth.org.