According to information released by the system Tuesday, 270 flu cases have been recorded in the area since Sept. 26. Rates nearly doubled in the two weeks between Dec. 1 and 14.
“Last year, we didn’t have 100 flu cases in a week until the third week of January; this year, that happened in the second week of December,” Jamie Swift, Ballad’s corporate director of infection prevention said. “The quickly increasing numbers match the trends happening regionally and nationally — this is shaping up to be an early and severe flu season across Tennessee, Virginia and other southern states.
“We fully expect our numbers to get much higher before they start declining.”
The visitation restrictions, on anyone younger than 18 and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to not visit patients at Ballad’s hospitals, are attempts to keep patients and the community safe, Swift said. The system also asked patients to limit their visitors to only two at a time.
Flu-like symptoms include cough, fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue.
Both influenza A and B have been noted in the area this year, Swift said. The symptoms of both strains are similar, but influenza B typically causes more severe illness in children.
Monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows seasonal flu activity in the United States has been elevated for five weeks and continues to increase, with 2.6 million flu illnesses diagnosed, 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths from flu so far this year.
“The flu is a potentially fatal virus, especially for small children and the elderly, and it can spread even before symptoms arise,” Swift said. “If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, please get one. Now is the time.”
A flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older, especially pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a chronic health condition or weakened immune system.
Prior to implementing restricted visitation, Ballad Health hospitals were already employing a number of other precautions, including mandatory flu shots for employees. The system said it also emphasizes appropriate hygiene precautions for employees, patients and visitors, including frequent handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes.