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Flu virus fades at TCHC, officials brace for norovirus

Tri-County Health Care (TCHC) Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Kleen said Wednesday that no further flu virus victims had been hospitalized at TCHC so far this season other than the three previously reported, and that TCHC had seen a decrease in the number of patients seeking treatment for flu-like symptoms.

"That activity certainly has slowed down a lot," Kleen said.

Kleen also said that between late-December to now, 39 people had tested positive for influenza A. She added that 100-150 flu patients sought treatment during that same period.

She said the flu season would not be over until the end of March. Although this season had an unusual early intensity, Kleen said the typical peak of flu activity occurs near the close of the season in late February and early March.

"There's nothing to suggest that we're out of the woods yet with flu activity," Kleen said.

Jilene Fiemeyer, branding and communications specialist at TCHC, said they have lifted the restriction on patient visitors.

The hospital is now taking steps to combat a different viral threat, the norovirus, which Kleen described as a gastrointestinal virus that commonly affects people in places like cruise ships and dorm rooms. Symptoms include a sudden onset of nausea and diarrhea. Kleen added that the main health concern associated with norovirus is dehydration and loss of electrolytes, which in extreme cases can be life-threatening.

Unlike influenza A, no vaccine is available to prevent norovirus. TCHC has already seen some patients with norovirus, but has not hospitalized anyone yet, Kleen said.

Quality Director Tammy Suchy described a variety of measures TCHC uses to prevent infections like influenza A and norovirus from spreading inside the hospital. She said employees who are out sick for more than three days are required to report why they were out and have clearance from a doctor to come back. She added that TCHC is in the process of installing special hand hygiene stations with disinfectant foam, masks and tissues available to use.

"With influenza A, we have encouraged our staff ... to get the flu vaccine. That's the best way to prevent influenza," Suchy said. "With norovirus, the best way to prevent that from spreading is with hand hygiene."

Kleen said proper hand washing was also the key for the general public to prevent norovirus infection. She added that people displaying symptoms of norovirus should not prepare food.