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TUPELO, Miss. — North Mississippi Medical Center is experiencing higher rates of flu than usual this year and is implementing several strategies at its main hospital to protect our patients, visitors, staff and physicians.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, hospitalized patients, young children, and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.

NMMC will be following these protection measures:

· To avoid further spread of the disease, NMMC will be limiting visitation to one visitor per family member at a time. Ideally, one designated family member per patient would limit exposure.

· Individuals who have flu symptoms are asked to leave the hospital. If you are coughing, please use a tissue to cover your face. Do not return to visit until you are free of symptoms for seven days.

· If you get very sick, if you are pregnant, or if you have a medical condition that puts you at higher risk of flu complications (like asthma), call your doctor. You might need antiviral medicine to treat the flu.

· The flu shot is the best means available for preventing the influenza virus, but it does not work 100 percent of the time. However, you may respond quicker to medicines, such as Tamiflu or have a less severe form of the flu, if you have received a vaccine.

· It is not too late to get a flu shot, but, remember, it takes a couple of weeks to form immunity. The flu shot is not a “live” vaccine, so if you experience symptoms soon after your vaccine, chances are that you were already exposed.

· NMMC employees who have not received the flu vaccine will be required to wear a mask for all patient care duties during the flu season.

“NMMC has been hard hit by the flu, and we’re enlisting the community’s help in limiting our patients’ exposure to the flu,” said Steve Altmiller, NMMC president. “We are limiting visitors to one per patient at a time. Our strong preference is to have one designated family member or caregiver per patient during their hospital stay in order to limit the number of visitors hospital wide. ”

“We are also limiting visitors to age 15 and older. Children under age 14 should not visit,” said Malinda Prewitt, M.D. “Influenza is spread from person to person often before the carrier experiences the first symptom.”

Individuals who would like to send an email greeting to a patient can visit www.nmhs.net/egreeting.php. This free service is available to let a hospitalized friend or family member know you are thinking about them.

Another factor in this decision is a national shortage of masks and gowns. “Limiting visitors will conserve these resources and further protect our patients and staff,” Altmiller said.

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