Wear a mask to prevent flu spread

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Area hospitals and health care systems are strongly recommending all patients and visitors wear a mask inside local facilities to protect themselves from influenza and similar illnesses this season.

The joint recommendation came Monday from six regional health systems, including Sentara and Bon Secours. It came somewhat earlier than in past years, but Dr. Scott Miller, the influenza prevention taskforce leader for Sentara, said that’s not necessarily a concern.

“Mother Nature does what she wants, and she’s fickle,” he said.

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Patients and visitors, even those who already had a flu vaccine, are strongly recommended to wear a mask inside hospitals, medical facilities and physician practices to protect themselves and others, according to Monday’s joint announcement. Masks and hand sanitizer are available at facility entrances.

Individuals displaying symptoms of influenza-like illness are asked not to visit patients at area hospitals. Those symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

“Vaccine is the best prevention available, but they are not 100 percent effective,” the statement said. “Masking provides an additional layer of protection from the potentially deadly disease.”

Miller said influenza is already at a high level this year. While it never goes away, it is especially prevalent during the winter months.

“It sort of picks up in activity progressively,” he said.

Lynne Zultanky, a spokeswoman for Bon Secours, also added that flu has come on quickly this year.

“We feel as though working together with all the other hospitals, we can help to keep the flu virus from spreading further by implementing our masking practices,” she said.

Miller said the regional cooperation came into being in 2009, when swine flu was making the rounds.

“That’s when we first realized this was a threat to our region,” Miller said.

He said there has been no resistance among any of the health systems to the regional cooperation.

“I think it’s helpful, because we don’t want to give mixed messages at different institutions across our region,” Miller said. “We’re trying to take care of patients, no matter what system you’re with.”

The health systems also recommend additional measures to prevent the spread of disease, such as washing hands frequently, staying home when sick and coughing into sleeves or tissues.

Monday’s recommendation affects Sentara Obici Hospital, Sentara BelleHarbour, Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View and associated medical offices.