- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - Sioux City hospitals are requiring health care workers who haven’t received a flu shot to wear masks when consulting with patients, a move officials say is aimed at keeping people healthy.

Mercy Medical Center Sioux City and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s want anyone who works with patients to be vaccinated or wear a mask if they opt out for medical or religious reasons, The Sioux City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1fEwaab ). The hospitals’ policies aren’t mandated by the state.

Hospital officials said catching the flu while being hospitalized with another medical condition can be dangerous and possibly lead to a longer hospital stay or cause death.

“That is why all health care workers should get vaccinated,” said Dr. Bertha Ayi, medical director of Global Infectious Disease Services and epidemiology at Mercy. “And if you don’t get the vaccine, especially when the illness becomes more prevalent in the community, you’ll have to put on a mask before you’ll be allowed into patient care areas.”

Faye Tompkins, manager of employee health and wellness at UnityPoint, said the hospital requires that employees be “disease-free.” Officials strive for 100 percent compliance from employees on getting vaccinated.

“You’re coming in contact with other patients and other personnel. You can actually spread the influenza virus up to 72 hours prior to experiencing any symptoms,” she said. “That means I could pass it on to somebody else and not even think I’m sick myself.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health has upgraded influenza activity in the state from regional to widespread. The predominant strain of influenza currently circulating in the country is H1N1.

State officials have confirmed more than 500 cases of the virus so far this season. That’s led to more than 300 hospitalizations.

Ayi said the close contact between health care workers and patients is an important factor to consider.

“We’re right in the patients’ faces,” she said. “We have more contact with a patient than any other business, so it’s extremely important that we take the necessary measures to prevent infections.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com


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