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Hospital visitors urged to wear masks

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From staff reports

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Patients and visitors to Sentara Healthcare facilities are being asked to wear masks to protect against the flu, the Norfolk-based health system announced Friday.

The mask advisory applies to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center and other Sentara facilities in Elizabeth City.

Sentara Albemarle spokeswoman Annya Soucy reported the hospital has seen about 15 cases of flu so far this season — but it saw more than 400 total cases before last flu season ended. Flu season runs from October through May, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The respiratory illness can gravely affect young children, the elderly, and those with other health problems, DHHS notes.

Masks and hand sanitizer are available at facility entrances, according to Sentara’s press release. It also urges people to wear masks even if they don’t feel sick.

“Data suggest an infected person can spread the (flu) virus for as long as 24 hours before exhibiting symptoms,” the release states.

The release also notes the advisory applies to people who’ve gotten the flu vaccine, which is “the best prevention available” but not always effective.

The release also asks people with flu-like symptoms to stay home and avoid visiting hospital patients for now. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

The release states the mask advisory will remain in effect while the disease is at widespread levels.

Albemarle Regional Health Services, an eight-county health department, also reported masks are likewise available at its locations. Spokeswoman Liza Layton also reported that area counties are seeing flu trends in line with the state, with cases below the number this time last year.

According to DHHS, there have been 16 flu-related deaths so far this season in North Carolina.

Elsewhere, Vidant Chowan Hospital in Edenton has not put its flu season protocol in place, said Kelly Herr, marketing manager.

"We haven't put it in place yet, but the situation is being monitored as the flu season continues," she said.

Herr said that so far, the hospital has seen fewer than 20 patients with either the flu or flu-like symptoms. The number is less than last year.

"If you call the local doctors' offices, you'll probably find that that number is much higher," she said. "And that's what you want. Folks need to see their medical provider first if they experience any flu symptoms."

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