A robust flu season has led El Camino Hospital to take additional steps to protect its patients and visitors.
Hospital officials last week enacted visitation restrictions at its Mountain View and Los Gatos campuses prohibiting children under the age of 16 from visiting patients. Dr. Caroline Stratz, who practices at the hospital’s adult and senior health clinics, told the Town Crier that the restrictions were instituted to help combat the spread of influenza by young visitors.
“Children are just more likely to get sick and spread the flu,” said Stratz, who noted that flu season typically runs from December through March. “We just want to prevent our patients from being exposed to the flu. … When the number of cases rises, the restrictions are implemented as a protective mechanism.”
Of particular concern to health professionals is the emergence of the H1N1 flu strain – known more commonly as the swine flu – which can ultimately develop into viral pneumonia in severe cases, according to Stratz. As previously reported by the Town Crier, Santa Clara County health officials attributed four county fatalities to the H1N1 virus.
Stratz noted that while seniors are typically most at risk during any given year, the H1N1 strain has made this flu season more challenging because it poses a threat to all age groups.
“It doesn’t discriminate between age groups – it affects the young just as much as the elderly,” said Stratz, who added that most people with the flu virus are actually contagious one day before symptoms appear – and five to seven days after.
Stratz said getting a flu vaccination is a critical step in gaining protection. This year’s vaccine, she noted, has been particularly effective in protecting against the H1N1 virus. In addition, Stratz recommends tried and true methods of protection and prevention, including frequent hand washing with soap and water, and covering the nose and mouth area when sneezing or coughing.
“Washing your hands is probably one of the greatest ways we can prevent the flu – aside from getting the flu shot itself,” she noted.
As for those who currently have the flu, Stratz stressed that the road to recovery is simple – get plenty of rest and drink fluids.
“And if you’re still not feeling well, you really don’t want to push yourself to go back to work,” she added. “You don’t want to be potentially exposing everyone else in your office to that.”
Flu season impacts blood donations
The heightened flu season has had a negative impact in other ways. Last week, officials at the Stanford School of Medicine Blood Center announced a critical shortage of whole blood and platelet donations.
Reached by the Town Crier, Blood Center spokeswoman Deanna Bolio said that while the organization’s inventory stock usually “tends to be lower” in January, this year’s supply is even lower than normal. She noted that the shortage is partly attributable to cancellations by donors falling ill with the flu.
“We actually have started to do some rationing because our supply is so low, even more so than in past years,” said Bolio, who added that the center’s three locations in Mountain View, Palo Alto and Menlo Park are currently accepting walk-ins to donate blood. “We always experience a few cancellations, but they’ve definitely been higher than normal.”
For more information on flu prevention, visit elcaminohospital.org.
For more information on donating blood, visit bloodcenter.stanford.edu.