Archived Story

Hospital restricts access to prevent spread of virus

Published 7:27pm Friday, January 17, 2014

Russell Medical Center has restricted children under 14 from its third floor obstetrics and pediatrics unit to protect its patients and the public from a stronger-than-usual outbreak of a common respiratory virus.

Dr. Eric Tyler of Pediatric Associates said his office has seen more cases of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV. It is a virus that’s seen commonly each winter, and causes symptoms with a wide range of severity from coughing to “babies getting horribly sick, in respiratory distress and nearly dying,” Tyler said.

“This year the RSV strain is causing babies to get very, very sick,” Tyler said.

Four newborns at the hospital have been stricken with the virus so severely they had to be transported to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for more intensive treatment. Tyler’s practice is seeing as many as 20 babies a day with RSV symptoms of some manner, he said.

Tyler called RMC with concern about the virus’s current prevalence. Traci Kelley, a registered nurse and RMC’s infection prevention coordinator, said the hospital has banned children under the age of 14 from visiting the third floor.

“It’s a really serious infection that children can easily contract, so we want to keep them out of those rooms,” Kelley said.

The temporary policy, Kelley said, is for the protection of their patients, who could catch the virus from a visitor, and for young members of the public, who they don’t want exposed to RSV while visiting a loved one.

“It’s for (the children’s) benefit, and also for the babies on that floor,” said RMC spokesperson Susan Foy. “A child may be in here visiting and not even know they’re walking around with it. We don’t want them exposed while visiting a new baby brother, sister or cousin, or especially passing it to the newborn. (RSV) can be very serious when a child that age gets it, and we need to protect them the best we can.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost all children will be infected with RSV by their second birthday. Most otherwise healthy people recover from an RSV infection in a week or two, the CDC said.

“However, infection can be severe in some people, such as certain infants, young children and older adults,” according to the CDC’s website.

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis — inflammation of the small airways of the lungs — and pneumonia in children under one year of age.

Tyler said the higher incidence of RSV is not a reason for great alarm, but precautions are necessary to protect the most vulnerable patients.

“We don’t want anyone to die from a preventable illness,” he said. “We want to keep people safe and keep patients safe.”

Kelley said she’s in the process of posting signs advertising the policy in the hospital lobby, elevators and waiting rooms. She also encouraged members of the public to follow employees’ lead and make “frequently wash their hands, especially when in patients room.”

“Masks are available at respiratory kiosks around the facility, in the waiting rooms on each floor and other locations around the hospital,” Kelley said.

All staff members are on “contact and droplet precautions,” Kelley said, requiring gowns, gloves and surgical masks when interacting with patients.

She said she has contacted the Area Six office of the Alabama Department of Public Health to inform them of the outbreak and see if it’s more widespread than just Alexander City. But because RSV is not an illness medical personnel are required to report, Kelley said, they have not responded to that question so far. But she did provide specific details about what they’ve seen in patients, to assist state health officers in assessing the problem.