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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Hospitals Address Widening Flu Outbreaks Across The State

A sign at Southern Vermont Medical Center explaining the visitor policy in light of the flu outbreak.
Ashley Jowett
The flu is widespread in Vermont - per the CDC's definition - and now Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is restricting visitors in order to better control the outbreak.

Hospitals are working to limit the spread of the flu as more cases are reported across Vermont.In early December, the Vermont Department of Health says about 2 percent of all hospital visits were attributed to flu-like symptoms.

According to the department's most recent report that number increased to almost 7 percent in late January.

Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems director of external affairs Judy Stermer says every hospital in the state has increased signage reminding visitors about hand hygiene and about not visiting patients when sick.

In Rutland, officials are working on a new policy to address the flu outbreak, and Stermer says one hospital is doing additional screening in their Mother/Baby Unit.

"The Association has shared information from the Vermont Department of Health and the CDC in our weekly update to members," Stermer said.

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has issued a flu alert, and the Bennington hospital is restricting visitors to better control the outbreak.

Chief Medical Officer Trey Dobson says the hospital is asking anyone who has had the flu, or flu-like symptoms, in the past 14 days to not visit the medical center.

The hospital will also restrict visits from people under the age of 18, though Dobson says that policy will be softened depending on the circumstance.

"It's specifically to protect patients. And if you have visitors who are early in their flu symptoms, and maybe don't recognize they have it yet, then they can start spreading it." — Dr. Trey Dobson, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center

"It's specifically to protect patients," Dobson says. "If you have visitors who are early in their flu symptoms, and maybe don't recognize they have it yet, they can start spreading it. We want to protect our patients, and  the community from getting the flu."

Visitors who have had flu symptoms, and who have to visit a patient, will be asked to wear a mask.

Dobson says the hospital has limited visits during past flu outbreaks, and he says the last visitation restrictions were put in place during the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2014.

"This year, due to the widespread flu epidemic, and also the severity of the flu, we have elected to enact this," Dobson said. "We have seen an increase in the number of cases likely due to a less than optimal match of the vaccine this year.

The Centers for Disease Control says the flu is widespread in Vermont which means there have been outbreaks in at least half the regions in the state.

The Health Department reports that there was an outbreak at a childcare facility in the Southwest region, and at two schools in the Central and Northwest region.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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