Local hospitals prepare for spike in flu cases this winter season

Sierra View and Kaweah Health medical centers lay out some restrictions in preparation for worsening respiratory disease cases

PORTERVILLE – Hospitals in the county are preparing for an influx of Influenza cases amongst other viruses this flu season as respiratory illnesses worsen and vaccine rates dwindle.

The Sierra View Medical Center (SVMC) announced hospital visitation restrictions on Oct. 24, which were put in effect immediately to prepare for anticipated cases of Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). SVMC will enforce the visitation restrictions for the safety of patients, visitors and staff until spring of 2023 and will reevaluate the overall situation again at that time. The restrictions were put in place to prevent the spread of the viruses to more susceptible communities.

According to the collaborative efforts of the SVMC infection prevention team, the restrictions are seasonal and in line with policies outlined by the state and county. As this year’s flu season takes a turn for the worse, the infection prevention team attributes the increase in cases for the respiratory viruses to a multitude of factors.

“The desire for normalcy, to stop using a mask and to increase socialization, plus a decrease in Influenza vaccination, are all expected to contribute an increase of Influenza and RSV rates,” according to a SVMC statement.

Visitors under the age of 13 will be restricted from any of SVMC’s acute care units, as well as from the distinct part/skilled nursing facility, for their own protection as well as the protection of others. According to the infection prevention team, the age restriction is the standard practice of the state. The restriction will be in effect until the RSV and flu season’s conclusion, which is dependent on the number of cases observed in the area.

The SVMC Infection Prevention Department reported 18 cases of Influenza A as well as two cases of Influenza B that have come through the hospital. Influenza A is a strain that can be found in multiple species like humans, birds and pigs while Influenza B is typically only found in humans. There have been no positive cases of RSV observed by the department thus far, but as the medical center tracks other nearby and statewide cases, that is expected to change.

SVMC urges visitors to comply with this restriction until further notice, both for the safety of children visiting the hospital and the well-being of patients, as well as other visitors and community members alike.

In addition to SVMC’s reported cases, Visalia’s Kaweah Health has reported a documentation of 255 cases of Influenza and 71 cases of RSV. The numbers were documented from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5. According to Kaweah Health Chief Nursing Officer Keri Noeske, in 2019 during the same span of time, Kaweah Health only saw three cases of the flu and no cases of RSV.

According to Noeske, RSV activity is higher than previous years and the health center is observing cases of higher severity. She said COVID-19 will contribute to increased respiratory illnesses this year. Of the flu cases observed by Kaweah Health within the first week of November, cases were predominantly seen in school age children, who are six to 12 years old.

“We are seeing fewer adults and children vaccinated for the flu this year; this will also contribute to more severe illness during the respiratory season,” Noeske said.

For this flu season, Kaweah Health will continue to have a restricted volume of visitors in their patient care rooms, with a single visitor allowed in the room at one time. The medical center will also continue to enforce a limit of two visitors in a room at a time in most inpatient care areas. Additionally, they will continue having visitors wear masks, as well as their patient care teams, to help protect our patients and staff from illnesses.

SVMC encourages community members to prevent transmission of contagious microorganisms by following recommended guidelines. The guidelines are: continual, thorough hand washing with soap and water or disinfect, like an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, before coming into contact with others; routinely cleaning household surfaces to keep them as germ-free as possible; avoiding crowded places like malls and movie theaters, where viruses can quickly spread from person to person; and if you experience cold-like symptoms, always use a tissue when coughing or sneezing, immediately dispose of it properly, then wash your hands thoroughly to prevent spreading the virus. 

Additionally, SVMC reminds everyone to eat healthy, exercise and get plenty of rest to help keep their immune system at full strength.

These guidelines are echoed by Kaweah Health staff, who encourage people to get flu and COVID-19 vaccines to not only protect themselves, but others as well. 

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