Colquitt Regional Medical Center Masking Up

By Alan Mauldin

MOULTRIE — Visitors to Colquitt Regional Medical Center may have observed patients and employees wearing surgical masks Thursday as the hospital initiated additional flu-related precautions.

The hospital tightened rules for visitors several weeks ago, prohibiting children from visiting patients, limiting the number of visitors to any patient to two at any one time and prohibiting sick people from visiting patients.

The move to require masks for certain employees, patients and visitors came as the hospital is dealing with more patients exhibiting flu-like symptoms, officials said.

Dena Zinker, director of Colquitt Regional Medical Center’s emergency room, said she doe not have a tally of possible swine flu cases, but noted that national officials predict that hospitals, schools and businesses could be dealing with 40 percent rates of infection in their work forces at the peak of flu season.

“We’ve had seven or eight positives (for flu) just since last night, but we have a lot of other patients with influenza-like symptoms,” Zinker said Thursday afternoon. “We have definitely seen an increase in the amount of influenza-like illnesses we are seeing.”

Wearing masks was made mandatory Thursday for some emergency room personnel and visitors and patients at high-risk of complications due to compromised immune systems. The requirement also is in effect for all visitors to the maternal/infant unit.

“We also have started making employees who are at risk for unknown exposure, triage staff, front-desk staff and the emergency department, and outpatient registration staff wear masks,” Zinker said.

Patients who are exhibiting symptoms that could be flu-related also are told to don masks as they enter the building.

“What we are doing now is taking precautions,” Zinker said. “We’re limiting visitors in the emergency room. We are really discouraging visitation and are limiting what we are allowing.”

Symptoms of influenza include fever that is usually high, headache, tiredness, body aches, coughing, and sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. The H1N1 influenza, initially dubbed swine flu, that has sickened people in all 50 states also can cause diarrhea and vomiting, which is more common in children than in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colquitt Regional Medical Center officials said that those who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms should seek treatment first from a primary care physician or at an urgent-care facility. An emergency room visit is normally necessary in severe cases including for those having difficulty breathing or a high fever that cannot be controlled.

Because the flu is hitting a large number of children and young adults and can induce stomach unease hospital officials reminded parents not to administer aspirin to children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.

Pepto-Bismol, used to treat stomach discomfort, does not contain aspirin but does contain a non-aspirin salicylate and the company advises consulting with a physician before administering it to children and teenagers with flu-like symptoms.

The H1N1 flu strain is expected to sicken large numbers of people but so far it has not been particularly deadly.

The CDC reports it has so far accounted for 7,511 hospitalizations and 477 deaths in the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.