Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing isn’t enough if you’re planning on visiting a healthcare facility during the four months of flu season.
Anyone entering hospitals and other medical settings including long-term care homes who didn’t get a flu shot, will be asked to own up and wear a mask, effective Monday.
A station is already set up inside the front entrance of Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital (KBRH) that contains masks and hand sanitizer with additional points of supply available in all patient care areas.
“While staff will be able to assist visitors in the right way to put on the masks, they will not be enforcing it,” says Joanne Tench, KBRH’s infection control practitioner. “The policy is in place because hospitalized patients and seniors in residential care are more vulnerable to the flu than healthy adults. The intent is to protect patients who may already have serious health issues from getting sicker due to the flu.”
However, being vaccinated against the seasonal influenza doesn’t mean flushing preventive practises like hand washing down the sink.
“We recommend that vaccination alone is not going to make enough of an impact if we don’t look at the other very important public health and hygiene measures,” explained Dr. Lee MacKay, chair of Kootenay Boundary Division of Family Practise.
Surgical masks reduce the concentrate of influenza virus expelled into ambient air when they are worn by someone shedding the virus, however Tench reminds people entering the hospital to wash their hands and use the provided hand sanitizer.
“Other people can also get sick from the germs unwashed hands leave on shared objects like doorknobs, keyboards, and other equipment in the home or workplace,” she added.
Although flu season outbreaks can begin as early as October, the policy was issued last year by the Ministry of Health, and stipulates that members of the public or unvaccinated health care providers must don a mask on Dec. 1 until the end of the influenza season (generally March 31).
Visitors and staff should stay home if they feel sick or have a fever. Anyone planning to visit patients in a health care facility, or those who take family members to outpatient appointments, are eligible for a free influenza shot from a pharmacist, clinic or licensed practitioner.
“People have a choice between wearing a mask or having the flu shot,” noted Tench. “It is based on an honour system, and we are hoping people understand that this is about protecting vulnerable individuals in our facilities.”
The next flu clinics in Trail are at the Kiro Wellness Centre are on Monday from 9 a.m. until noon and Dec. 8 from 9 a.m. until noon. For information on local pharmacies administering the flu vaccine, visit immunize.bc.ca or call the Wellness Centre at 364.6219.