By Natalie Bubela, CEO at Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare
Keeping your loved ones healthy during their hospital stay is our priority, but you can also play a role if you are planning to visit the hospital.
If you’re visiting a friend or family member or if you’re coming in for an outpatient test or procedure, it’s important to follow basic infection prevention principles – especially during flu season.
The flu is a serious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It is spread by direct contact, like touching someone, and by small droplets we expel when we breathe, talk, sneeze or cough.
First and foremost, get your flu shot from your family doctor or at a local pharmacy. The best defense against the flu is getting vaccinated every year. Everyone older than six months should get a flu vaccine, and especially those who are at a higher risk of getting sick when they’re exposed to illness. Those at higher risk include people over 65 years, pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions like asthma and diabetes, and those with compromised immune systems because of illnesses like HIV, hepatitis, and cancer.
Although most experts believe that influenza is most frequently spread by droplets, good hand hygiene can prevent up to 50% of influenza. This could be because these droplets can land on your hands or on surfaces that you have touched, and then often, and sometimes unconsciously, you touch your face.
Patients in the hospital are at a higher risk of exposure to illness, so to keep others safe it is always better not to visit patients in the hospital if you are feeling unwell. If you have flu-like symptoms like fever/chills, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, nausea and/or vomiting or diarrhea, it is especially important to stay home, avoid others and rest.
It’s also possible that you could have influenza before you feel any symptoms because the incubation period is 48 to 72 hours. That’s why good hand hygiene is really important.
Your role in helping to stop the spread of germs at the hospital starts when you first come through the door.
Use the hand sanitizing stations inside the entrances to each of our sites to clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Be sure to put on a mask if you have a new or worsening cough and wear it at all times in the building if you must attend the hospital.
In health care facilities like hospitals, you should clean your hands often, especially before entering and after exiting a patient room or a care area. That’s because germs can also live on surfaces and clinical studies have shown that the influenza virus can live on hard surfaces for between two and eight hours.
Practice good respiratory etiquette by coughing or sneezing into your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
When we care for patients with the flu or influenza-like symptoms, our staff wears masks, gowns, and gloves. You should always talk to the nurse before entering a patient’s room, so you too are aware of what steps to take to protect yourself and others.
Like other health care facilities, Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare has policies in place to limit visitors in the event of a flu outbreak in the hospital, or even if influenza activity becomes widespread in the region.
Read the signs when you visit the hospital, check the www.mahc.ca website for updates, or call ahead for visiting restrictions.