The University of Michigan Health System is taking action to protect patients from the flu.

Since the start of this year’s flu season, UMHS has reported four influenza-related deaths. To combat the virus, hospital officials are enacting new protocols to keep other patients from falling ill.

At the center of the plan is a revised visitor policy, which asks people who exhibit flu-like symptoms to avoid visiting patients at the hospital, as the sick patients are more susceptible to illness than the general population.

While the policy recommends anyone exhibiting flu symptoms — which can include fever, body aches, chills, coughing, headache, tiredness, sore throat and nasal congestion — to avoid the hospital if they’re not seeking treatment, it also provides guidelines for those who choose to visit. Visitors with symptoms who must visit the hospital are required to wear a mask. UMHS initiated a similar protocol last year.

The policy also maintains a year-round procedure designed to protect young visitors. No child younger than 12 years old is permitted to enter the room of a patient who is known or suspected to have the flu.

The main strain of flu currently circulating is Influenza A, or H3N2. UMHS epidemiologist Laraine Washer said the number of hospitalizations for those who have contracted this strain is high.

“As of this week, we have almost 500 lab confirmed cases and about 200 patients are hospitalized,” Washer said.

Some experts have deemed the current flu season as more severe than in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in December that flu vaccines may not be enough protection against the strain.

Even so, experts still consider flu shots important for protecting against the virus. U.S. News reported in December that flu shots remain the “single most effective way to protect against flu.” In addition to flu shots, several antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza have proven effective for fighting the flu.

Eden Wells, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health, encouraged all University students to get vaccinated.
“If you are not vaccinated, start and be aware that the vaccine takes some time to build up immunity in your system,” Wells said.

Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, public information officer at the Washtenaw County Public Health Department, said UMHS is on the right track with the Healthy Visitor Policy.

“As a health department, we encourage anything that reduces the spread of illness,” Ringler-Cerniglia said. “When things are circulating, it certainly makes sense for them to restrict their policy and try to reduce the spread.”

Flu vaccines are still available and Washtenaw County residents can obtain $25 vaccinations through the county’s public health department.

Daily Staff Reporter Quan Nguyen contributed to this report.

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