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Flu season has struck earlier and harder than in recent years, and according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the virus is active and widespread in the region. In response, children and the elderly with health conditions, who are both more susceptible to contracting and spreading the flu virus, are being encouraged not to visit patients at Peninsula Regional Medical Center (PRMC).  “Our first priority is the safety of our patients, visitors and staff and while we have not made any decision about significant changes to our open visitation policy, we are asking that the elderly and children not visit during this very active flu season,” said Karen Mihalik, RN, Infection Preventionist at PRMC. At this time, there has also been no decision to engage PRMC’s Flu Plan, a component of the organization’s overall Emergency Management Plan; however, the Medical Center is prepared if flu cases increase. Medical Center leaders are meeting regularly and are monitoring flu activity in the Emergency Department, on all inpatient and outpatient units as well as in the community and at PRMC’s family medicine and specialty offices.  “We have a comprehensive flu plan that was specifically designed to be implemented in stages to address everything from limiting visitation, to triaging patients separately inside and outside of our Emergency Department, to even activating pandemic flu measures if necessary,” Mihalik said.  “Our entire healthcare team has experience, including the preventive actions taken during the H1N1 flu of 2009, so we’re ready to quickly and efficiently activate our plan if needed.”  PRMC has treated more than 60 cases of influenza this season, an amount higher than normal, but not unexpected with the virus active in the community. PRMC nurses and physicians remind everyone to practice excellent hand hygiene by washing and sanitizing their hands regularly, coughing into their sleeves or a tissue and to get their seasonal flu shot if they already haven’t.  They also encourage anyone who feels that they may have the flu to visit their primary care physician.   “It might not be the flu, as there are also a number of different upper respiratory and GI bugs out there right now that people are mistaking for influenza, but it’s always best to have those checked out and properly diagnosed,” Mihalik added. PRMC will continue to offer masks at all entrances to the Medical Center.  In addition to children and the elderly, anyone with flu-like symptoms is encouraged not to visit friends and loved ones, but if absolutely necessary to please protect themselves and others by wearing a mask while on the Peninsula Regional campus. One change Peninsula Regional has already implemented is the creation of a small treatment area for non-flu, non-critically injured or ill patients off the main waiting room of the Emergency Department.  Relocating those patients to this new treatment location has opened up additional bed space within the Emergency Department for other patients, including those arriving with flu-like symptoms who are being segregated in a special waiting area. Working closely with the Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset County Health Department, Peninsula Regional will continue to monitor local flu activity and will implement stages of its flu plan accordingly.  PRMC has also planned a Walk-In Flu Clinic on Tuesday, January 15 from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. in the Avery W. Hall Educational Center on the Medical Center campus.