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EvergreenHealth in Kirkland begins screening hospital visitors for flu

EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland will begin to screen all visitors for the flu starting at 5 a.m. Tuesday at EvergreenHealth's main hospital building. The measures are being put into place to help prevent the spread of influenza to patients and staff, the hospital said. (Photo: KOMO News)

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland is beginning to screen all visitors for the flu.

The new screening measures began at about 7 a.m. Tuesday at EvergreenHealth's main hospital building. The measures are being put into place to help prevent the spread of influenza to patients and staff, the hospital said.

"It is an abundance of caution," said Dr. Francis Riedo, Medical Director of Infection Prevention for EvergreenHealth. "This is not an attempt to tell people to stay away from their doctors. It is an attempt for people who might be a little bit ill or feel like they might be getting ill from coming to the hospital and exposing other patients, who are more vulnerable quite honestly."

Beginning Tuesday, a team of nurses began greeting visitors at 4 main screening points to be checked for flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, and body aches.

Dr. Riedo told KOMO News the screening measures are necessary given the length and intensity of this year's flu season, which has been widespread nationwide for 5 consecutive weeks.

"Usually we’ll see widespread illness or infection for 2 weeks, 3 weeks. And not in the entire United States. I mean this has really shown no signs of abating. It’s persistently elevating now for 5 consecutive weeks," Dr. Riedo said. "Part of it is because of the efficacy of the vaccine. It’s not a perfect vaccine. And part of it is just the sheer duration and intensity of the numbers, I think, that have prompted us to take this additional step."

A visitor who has flu-like symptoms and is need of medical attention will be asked to a wear a mask during their visit.

A visitor with flu-like symptoms but isn't seeking medical care will be asked to postpone their visit until they're feeling better.

The hospital also said no one under age 16 will be allowed to visit the main hospital, unless they're visiting certain areas.

"The only exception will be if the child has an immediate family member in the Family Maternity Center, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or the Pediatric Care Unit in which case the child will be screened and may be allowed access only if they do not have any symptoms. They will be restricted to vising their immediate family members only, and are asked not to visit common areas such as Cafe 128, the Gift Shops or the playroom," the hospital said.

Access will be limited to the main hospital building: Blue, coral, green, purple, red and silver zones. Doors to the areas will be locked except for four screening points.

"King County health care facilities are reporting higher than usual cases of influenza this year," EvergreenHealth said. "Our clinical leaders have been monitoring these cases, and in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, we are implementing precautionary prevention measures, including the screening, to minimize further effects of the virus on our staff, providers, patients and community."

The new screening measures will be in place at EvergreenHealth’s main hospital in Kirkland until doctors see a drop in the number of flu cases in Washington, Riedo said.

Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, University of Washington Medical Center, Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, and Valley Medical Center in Renton all have kiosks with handwashing gel and masks, a spokeswoman said. The hospitals ask visitors to stay home, if they are ill.

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