Providence hospitals in Olympia and Centralia are taking extra steps to prevent the spread of flu after seeing more people with flu or flu-like symptoms this month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated flu activity in Washington as minimal at the end of December. But the state’s Department of Health says activity was increasing last month; already nine lab-confirmed flu deaths have been reported this flu season, including one in Thurston County.
Providence officials say last week more than 10 percent of people coming into the emergency room at Providence St. Peter in Olympia had flu-like symptoms and nearly 20 percent of flu tests came back positive.
People with flu-like symptoms including a cough, congestion and high temperature are asked to stay out of the hospitals unless they are seriously ill. Instead, patients should go to their primary care provider, an urgent care clinic or stay home and treat their symptoms.
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Starting this week, hospital employees and volunteers who did not get a flu shot must wear masks. People entering the family birth center and critical care units will be screened for symptoms.
Signs will encourage anyone with a cough or cold to stay out of the hospital or wear a mask, and there will be more frequent cleanings throughout the buildings, especially in waiting rooms, bathrooms and nursing stations.
“Oftentimes people with the flu don’t know they’re sick and can (spread it) before they start having symptoms,” said Angie Dickson, infection prevention manager at Providence.
She said people should wash their hands, cover their coughs and stay home if they feel sick to avoid potentially spreading the flu.
It’s also not too late to get a flu shot, she said.