MASON CITY, Iowa - Sneezing, sniffling, coughing: cold and flu season is here, with January being a peak month for influenza.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, flu activity has slightly increased on the state, though on a more local level as opposed to widespread around this time last year. In Cerro Gordo County, five cases of influenza A have been identified over the last couple of weeks, four of them are the H1N1 strain, which is covered by this year's flu vaccine.
After a recent influenza test in the community that was confirmed by the State Hygienic Lab, Mercy Medical Center North Iowa has initiated Level 1 visitation restrictions. Visitors with respiratory or influenza-like symptoms are restricted from visiting hospitalized patients. In addition, visitors for patients in isolation are limited to a significant other or spouse, and parents or guardians plus two visitors.
Infection Prevention Nurse Kim Overbeck notes that so far, the restrictions are proving to be effective.
"I think visitors and such are very aware and they've been very helpful in trying to abide by the restrictions and help us keep our patients safe."
In late January of last year, Mercy North Iowa initiated Level 3 visitor restrictions due to a significant increase in flu cases. Overbeck says the hospital has learned a lot from last year, and if the flu season gets worse this year, there could be more restrictions.
"We widened our ranges this year of what percent we're seeing and how we monitor it is how it's coming through our emergency department, so individuals that are seeking treatment that may have influenza-like symptoms, it kind of gives us an idea of how the community is doing and based on those levels is how we restrict and how we go up."
Mercy adds that if families need special consideration for a visit, they should contact the nurse in charge of the unit they wish to visit before coming to the hospital.
Level 1 restrictions will continue until the end of influenza season around the end of March, Overbeck adds.
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