Ottumwa Regional Health Center

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OTTUMWA — According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 14 people have died from the flu statewide this flu season. Some local hospitals are asking visitors to be smart — and protect their loved ones who are staying in the hospital.

“We appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation as we all do our best to stay healthy during this vicious flu season,” Interim CEO Chris Jepsen said in a Wednesday release from Mahaska Health Partnership.

Ottumwa Regional Health Center is also monitoring the situation.

“While ORHC does not have a specific limit on number or age of visitors at this time, anyone with symptoms of influenza is asked to refrain from visiting patients in the hospital,” said Paula Simplot, Chief Quality Officer, Ottumwa Regional Health Center.

Mahaska, in Oskaloosa, is being a bit more strict than "asking."

“The number of visitors in a patient’s room will be limited to two adults, over the age of 18, at a time. The only exception will be for hospice patients and siblings of newborns, who should only visit if they are healthy and have been fever free for at least 24 hours without medication,” Jepsen said.

Hospitals typically have signs asking visitors not to come if they’re sick. But with the flu virus raging across the state, there’s a more direct approach, even when it comes to patients.

“If a patient comes to the hospital to be treated and has a cough, they will be asked to wear a mask,” said Simplot in Ottumwa.

The signs at Mahaska Health ask visitors to wear a mask if they are ill, to use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting the facility as well as patient rooms — and to cover their cough with a tissue or their sleeve. Simplot agreed that covering your cough and frequently washing your hands can help prevent the spread of the flu. The Iowa Department of Public Health said those precautions are wise anywhere you’ll be around the public, especially if experiencing flu symptoms.

Simplot answered a frequently asked question: “Even those who have been vaccinated for influenza could get the flu or spread it to others,” she said.

“Our first priority,” said Jepsen, “is always the health and well-being of our patients. However, we recognize the large role a patient’s friends and family have in their recovery. We still welcome visitors for all patients, we just ask each individual to take precautions and to stay away if they are ill.”

Symptoms in children showing the virus may be there and is at an emergency level: Fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish skin color, not drinking enough fluid, not waking up or interacting, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held and fever with a rash.

In adults, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pressure in the chest or abdomen, dizziness or confusion and persistent vomiting.

For adults and kids, be especially cautious if you notice flu-like symptoms improve — then return with fever and worse cough.

Reporter Mark Newman is at MNewman@OttumwaCourier.com or on Twitter @CourierMark.

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Born in New England, reporter Mark Newman has lived in Iowa and Nebraska over 20 years, with 12 years as a Courier staff writer. He covered education news, but is now focusing on social issues as well as feature stories of local interest.