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Prisma Health, Laurens County Hospital temporarily restricts children and teens from hospital visits

A significant increase in confirmed flu cases have prompted Prisma Health Hospitals to restrict visits from children and teens 16 and under. (Graph- DHEC Flu Watch)

Laurens County, South Carolina – A significant uptick in influenza cases over the past few weeks has prompted Prisma Health to restrict visitors at all the Prisma hospitals by all children 16 and under, and that includes Laurens County Hospital.

The restrictions went into place at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 27, and Prisma Health’s infectious disease specialist Dr. Helmet Albrecht said in a zoom call Wednesday morning that the temporary measure is to protect patients and to protect the community.

“For the Carolinas this spike in cases is oddly early to have these high numbers,” Albrecht said, “and there is much of it in the community.”

The flu is prevalent in schools, so families may not know their children are infected, or the children could come see a hospitalized loved one and become infected with the flu during the visit.

All these influenza-like illnesses are high in numbers right now, Albrecht said. 

“They are very contagious and are spread through droplets, not just coughing and sneezing but just by talking,” he said. “So we are not requiring masks but recommending masks, either to protect yourself  from these respiratory illnesses which are highly present right now – covid, RSV or influenza like illnesses, or to prevent the spread to others.”

Albrecht said that among Prisma Health facilities, whether they are primary care, hospital emergency or urgent care clinics, 20 precent are testing positive for the flu virus. Primarily influenza A but also B, and the strains match up quite well with their year’s vaccine.

“We recommend the flu vaccine because the problem this year does not appear to be a match with the vaccine – that’s quite good,” Albrecht said. “The problem is under vaccination in the community.”

And while it may take close to two weeks for the flu vaccine to be fully effective, it begins offering significant protection in just a few days. 

He also recommends parents watch their children or sick elderly or at risk relatives for any sign of shortness of breath. Most of the time symptoms can be controlled with over the county products, he said, but shortness of breath is the time to be seen by a primary care doctor or urgent care staff, both of which are far preferable to the emergency rooms right now.

“Right now we need to do what’s right,” Albrecht said. “Wash hands often and well, refrain from touching your face especially if you have touched any surface or another person, and get the vaccine.”

In the winter the influenza germs can survive on surfaces better and longer, so doorknobs and any surfaces should be cleaned regularly.

While the hospitals are not yet seeing a dangerous surge in patients hospitalized for the flu, an increase can happen quickly. According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the flu number data is currently a couple of weeks behind due to the holidays. So it’s likely worse than the online data shows.

In any given year the flu kills 10,000 Americans, Albrecht said.

“The average death rate is disturbing and hospitalization is disturbing,” Albrecht said. “So the answer is to get the community rate down and prevent our patients and nurses and staff from becoming infected and we would appreciate the help.”

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