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Flu hits Hancock and Winnebago counties

Globe Gazette - 2/13/2018

The nationwide influenza outbreak has hit Winnebago and Hancock counties.

Last week the Hancock County Health System, in Britt, raised its visitor restriction from Level 2 to Level 3 due to the number of local flu cases.

The hospital will have a visitation restriction of some level in effect until March 31.

"We want to protect our patients, visitors and our own colleagues the best way we can from spreading the flu. Limiting visitation is one effective method we know does works," said Laura Zwiefel, HCHS CEO/Administrator, in a news release. "Many of our network hospitals also have adopted similar policies."

Level 3 restrictions are as follows:

Visitors with respiratory- or influenza-like symptoms are restricted from visiting.

Visitors 18 and younger are restricted from visiting the hospital unless a pediatric visitor is visiting a parent in the hospital.

Only significant other and parents of patient may visit.

Emergency Department Patients are asked to bring only one person with them when seeking treatment.

Before flu season, all HCHS workers were given the influenza vaccine unless they had approved exemptions.

Now, under the current Level 3 Restriction guidelines, all healthcare workers who could not be vaccinated must wear a facemask for his/her entire shift.

The influenza outbreak also has affected area nursing homes and schools.

The Good Samaritan Society in Forest City began a quarantine on Jan. 30. Visitors were asked to stay away.

"It protects our residents and it protects visitors," said Barbara Devries, who works in marketing and resource development for the Good Samaritan Society.

If visitors did come in, they were asked to wear a face mask and wash their hands, she said.

Residents also ate in their rooms rather than in the dining area to help prevent the spread of the flu.

DeVries said the quarantine, which was lifted on Friday, was only the second one she can remember at the care center in the 28 years she has worked there.

Austin Svejda, administrator of the Good Samaritan location in Forest City, said lots of other nursing homes in the area also adopted temporary no-visitor policies because of the flu.

On Feb. 6 the absentee rate at Forest City Elementary was just over eight percent. The average absentee rate is around five percent, according to Darwin Lehmann, superintendent of Forest City Community Schools.

By Thursday the absentee rate at the elementary and the middle school was down to 5.5 percent. The high school had a four percent absentee rate that day.

Lehmann said not all absences are due to the flu.

The staff at each building have done a good job in encouraging students to stay home if they are sick so the flu doesn't spread, according to Lehmann.

He also said school employees are staying home themselves if they have the flu.

Sarah Hejlik, school nurse for West Hancock elementary and high school in Britt, said the school district was hit with the flu two weeks ago, but "we are kind of over the hump now."

Even at the height of the breakout, absentee rates never reached 10 percent, she said.

West Hancock officials encouraged everyone to get a flu shot back in September.

Although some people who did receive a shot still got influenza, "it's a little bit of a longer ride" for those who didn't, Hejlik said.

West Hancock, like many public schools, invites public health nurses in to give flu shots.

Heljik said this is a great convenience for parents, but they still have to sign permission forms.


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