"Influenza is in our community and it is important to take precautions to prevent you or your family from getting sick."

That's according to Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC) Chief Nursing Officer Linda Klimesh.

In the past two weeks, WMC has admitted four patients with influenza, and has treated and released many more in the Medical center's emergency department, urgent care and clinic.

Including these patients, WMC hospital beds have been filled to capacity or near capacity since mid-December. The Iowa Department of Public Health has announced that Iowa has widespread influenza activity, and the percent of outpatient visits for Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) is 5.5 percent across the state.

"Our area hospitals are admitting more and more patients with influenza. We are monitoring the situation here in Winneshiek County very closely with our colleagues at Winneshiek County Public Health, and are preparing for the possibility of more patients in the coming weeks," said Klimesh.

WMC collaborates with Winneshiek County Public Health to monitor the situation and inform the local community.

Visitors welcome

WMC is still allowing healthy visitors to enter the facility.

"While there are no plans to put visitor restrictions in place at the hospital at this time, we will take more action if the outbreak continues to escalate in our community," said Klimesh.

She added, "We request that people do not visit their loved ones in the hospital if they are under the weather, have a cold or worse. Symptoms of what appears to be a cold could be the beginning stages of influenza, which could easily infect hospitalized patients who are more susceptible to illness."

WMC has a mandatory influenza vaccination staff policy to improve patient safety from the flu.

"Winneshiek Medical Center staff are 100-percent compliant with our influenza vaccination policy. A vaccinated staff increases patient safety and reduces the risk of illness at our facility," said Klimesh.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people six months and older get a flu shot, which are still available at Mayo Clinic Health System in Decorah.

Klimesh said, "Even if you have put off getting the flu shot for various reasons, it's not too late. Within just two weeks of receiving the vaccine, you are more immune to influenza."

To protect yourself and others, Klimesh also advised:

• Stay home if you are not feeling well

• Avoid people who are ill and the places you may come in contact with sick people

• Thoroughly wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often and especially before you eat, and

• Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue

Influenza can include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, fatigue, body aches, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

To make an appointment for an influenza vaccine, call Winneshiek Medical Center at 563-382-2911.