Palmetto Health Tuomey in Sumter initiates visitor restrictions after flu claims 17 in state last week

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 1/26/18

Palmetto Health has initiated visitor restrictions for its facilities, including at Palmetto Health Tuomey in Sumter, in response to a continuing increase in flu activity.

As of Jan. 20, 46 people in South Carolina have died from the flu, …

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Palmetto Health Tuomey in Sumter initiates visitor restrictions after flu claims 17 in state last week

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UPDATE: After press time Thursday night, five people were admitted to Palmetto Health Tuomey with the flu, according to Katie Geer, communications coordinator for the health system. The two adults, two children and one infant were all stable as of Friday morning.

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Palmetto Health has initiated visitor restrictions for its facilities, including at Palmetto Health Tuomey in Sumter, in response to a continuing increase in flu activity.

As of Jan. 20, 46 people in South Carolina have died from the flu, including 17 in S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control's last reporting week alone (Jan. 14-20).

"It is important to take the flu seriously," Tuomey Administrative Director Letitia Pringle-Miller said. "Flu can develop into pneumonia. In the worst cases, our bodies' immune systems can react such that it can cause complications and sepsis, with respiratory and organ failure."

Because of a rise in the number of community members with cold or flu-like symptoms visiting Palmetto Health hospitals, outpatient facilities and emergency rooms, the hospital system is restricting anyone under the age of 18 from visiting until further notice, according to spokeswoman Katie Geer.

"Since children are more likely to get sick and spread the flu, our staff will only allow children under 18 to visit patients in special cases - or with prior approval from the patient's health care team," Geer said.

Another restriction enacted until further notice is that only two adults can visit a patient at a time.

An emergency room is not the greatest place to seek care for a contagious disease, Geer said, and while no one will be turned away from the Emergency Department, there are also same-day, primary care and urgent care centers available to treat flu patients.

"These have been initiated because the flu this year is very active," said Steve Shelton, emergency room physician and Palmetto Health medical director of Emergency Management. "It's impacting our entire health care community, including all emergency rooms and outpatient care facilities. We want to do everything that we can to assist those who are sick and prevent others from becoming sick."

Jan. 14-20 was the sixth week DHEC has reported the Palmetto State in widespread flu activity.

In that week, there were 470 influenza-associated hospitalizations reported by 50 hospitals, according to DHEC virologic surveillance data.

Of the 17 people who died from the flu last week, 10 were 65 years or older, four were 50 to 64 years old, and three were 18 to 49.

Compared to the previous week, the number of reported hospitalizations decreased by 13 (3 percent), but the number of reported deaths increased by eight (88.9 percent).

In the current flu season, a total of 1,762 hospitalizations have been reported, and of the 46 deaths, 13 have been in the Midlands, seven in the Pee Dee, 16 in the Upstate and 10 in the Lowcountry.

South Carolina has seen a total of 13,932 influenza cases this season so far reported from 44 counties.

Sumter has seen 255 cases.

"Our Emergency Department (ED) has seen an intermittent number of patients presenting every day with signs of the flu," Palmetto Health Tuomey Nurse Executive Terrie Carlton said. "People of all ages, ranging from the young to the elderly, are being impacted."

Carlton said while the department may be experiencing some visitors with flu-like symptoms, none have been admitted to the hospital.

No one who has come into Tuomey with the flu has died, the hospital's spokeswoman Geer said.

Tracy Foo, DHEC immunization medical consultant, said the Influenza A strain continues to be the most frequently reported this season in the state and nationally.

"When there are high levels of the H3N2 strain circulating, there tends to be more severe illness and a higher number of deaths," Foo said. "Because we are seeing more severe flu activity this season, it is especially important for these high-risk individuals to get vaccinated if they haven't already."

Vaccine effectiveness depends on how well the virus strains in the vaccine match the strains that are circulating and other factors including the individual's age and immune system's response.

"We do not yet know how effective this year's vaccine will be," Foo said, "but the message is still the same - get vaccinated now."

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Protect yourself again the flu after you get the vaccine

- Wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes

- Avoid contact with people who have the flu. If you must be around them, wear a properly fitted mask, which can be found at your local drugstore

- Eat well - plenty of fruits and vegetables - to support your immune system

- Drink a lot of water

- Clean surfaces that are touched often, such as cellphones, keyboards, counters, doorknobs, etc.

If you do contract the virus, here are some recommendations:

- Stay home at the first sign (fever, aches, etc.)

- Rest as much as possible

- Drink plenty of fluids

- Take proper medication as directed by a doctor

- Do not go to school or work until being fever-free for 24 hours

Source: Palmetto Health Tuomey