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State of the flu: Hospitals try to contain H1N1 outbreaks

January 13, 2014

    Juliette Mullin, Editor

    As the number of flu cases rises, hospitals nationwide are taking precautionary measures to prevent the spread of influenza and manage waves of infected patients.

    The latest data: 35 states report widespread activity

    According to CDC's latest flu report, the flu season is picking up steam, but it remains below epidemic levels. During week 1 of 2014, 6.9% of reported deaths in the United States were due to pneumonia and influenza, below the 7.1% epidemic threshold for week 1.

    Meanwhile, CDC reports that 4.4% of outpatient visits in week 1 were for influenza-like illness (ILI).

    Thirty-five states reported widespread flu activity in week 1, up from 25 states in the last week of 2013. That statistic only offers a picture of geographic spread of the flu—not the severity of flu activity.

    However, a state's ILI Activity level does give an idea of severity because it's based on the percent of outpatient visits for ILI. CDC reports that 20 states are experiencing high ILI activity, while just 12 are experiencing minimal activity.

    The H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009 remains the most prevalent flu strain this season, accounting for nearly 57% of all laboratory-confirmed cases.

    The 2009 H1N1 epidemic was 10 times worse than we thought

    Hospitals take steps to contain the flu

    Facilities from West Virginia to California are restricting visitor access in an effort to contain influenza outbreaks.

    For example, Adventist Midwest Health hospitals no longer allow visits under age 18, a limitation that will be in effect for the rest of the flu season. Moreover, each patient is limited to two visitors at a time, and anyone with flu symptoms is prohibited from visiting the facilities.

    "We are putting these changes into effect during this flu season to keep our staff, patients and community safe," says Maria Knecht, CNO at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Illinois.

    Some hospitals are taking it a step even further, limiting visitation to family members. At Princeton Community Hospital in West Virginia, officials are asking the public to avoid the facility.

    In California, where 15 flu-related deaths have been reported this season, Regional Medical Center has set up a flu tent near the ED. The San Jose hospital has brought in extra staff to handle the wave of flu patients.

    "We wanted to be able to treat these patients quickly and safely and also separate these patients from those emergency department patients who don't have flu symptoms," says Elaine Nelson, Regional's ED director.

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