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Why does CCH implement visiting restrictions because of the flu?

Why does CCH implement visiting restrictions because of the flu?

Editor’s note: We’ve had some questions from our community about why, and how, Campbell County Health implements visiting restrictions because of the flu (influenza). Our expert Kate Craig, BSN, RN, CCH's Infection Preventionist, provides the answer.

Flu is a pain. No one wants it, there’s controversy around immunizations and if you have loved ones in the hospital or a nursing home it may mean that you or your children cannot visit them. There’s just nothing fun about it. And, quite frankly, it is frustrating when the powers-that-be seem to keep the season rolling even when the sun is starting to shine, the Easter Bunny arrives with chocolate and the gardening sections at the stores are bustling.

Who decides this stuff, anyway?

At Campbell County Health in Gillette, Wyoming, it is a team of health professionals who consult with local and state public health, the school district and infectious disease specialists. The goal is simple: we want to prevent transmission to vulnerable people, which include The Legacy Living and Rehabilitation Center residents and Campbell County Memorial Hospital inpatients.

This sometimes means that visitor restrictions are invoked. This isn’t a lock-in; patients move about and residents go to doctor appointments and family functions. Restrictions are designed to protect the physical environment of Legacy and the hospital. We know that children, visitors who are actively ill and anyone who doesn’t practice cough etiquette or hand hygiene will transmit disease. By restricting visitors, we are protecting the environment while protecting the residents and patients who are more vulnerable and not able to move about so easily. They depend on us to protect their space.

This year’s flu season had a couple of changes late in the game. First, the state incidence of flu plateaued instead of declined. Though we were thankful it wasn’t increasing, it is worrisome when it is not decreasing. Second, one strain became more active during that plateau. Since the circulating strain changed, it was difficult to predict what was going to happen. Third, the flu incidence in Gillette shifted primarily to the school-age kids.

So for those of us who gather to make decisions on visitor restrictions, this was troubling. We weren’t just worried about influenza, we were also worried how the restrictions were affecting families. CCH doesn’t want to implement visitor restrictions. It’s hard on everyone. But when we look at who is most likely to be infected (kids) and who is most vulnerable (the elderly and the hospitalized), we have to be cautious about letting those groups intermingle.

Influenza is contagious before symptoms start. We don’t know how long flu lives on a surface, which is scary. And we know that coughs and sneezes can travel 20 feet or more. The vaccine helps to prevent complications and lower your risk of getting it or giving it to others, but we all know that it is not perfect.

We at CCH are so grateful to our community for understanding our protective stance. We also understand it has gotten in the way of family time. These are difficult decisions to make, and there is no hard and fast rule to go by. So, we will always choose caution because our residents and our patients are your loved ones, and we value you all.