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Germ welfare

December 13, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County Hospital is hoping patients and visitors will learn what is being called "respiratory etiquette," taking actions to deter the spread of colds and respiratory illnesses to others, said Kathy Morrisey, hospital director of infection control.

In recent months, the hospital has put up a sign asking people with cold or flu-like symptoms not to go to the hospital unless absolutely necessary, she said.

"We are asking people to voluntarily decide if they really should stay home and not visit someone in the hospital if they are coming just to visit," Morrisey said. Obviously, people who need medical attention should still come, she said.

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The hospital also has put mask-dispensing machines in several waiting rooms at the hospital, she said.

The hope is that people in the waiting rooms who are coughing, sneezing or exhibiting other behavior in which cold or flu germs could spread, will be considerate and put on the masks. The masks are free to the patients.

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel applauded the hospital's moves.

"That is a very good idea," he said. "It is good public health practice."

While dealing with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested hospitals consider asking patients and visitors to take into consideration whether visiting a hospital might get others sick, Morrisey said.

This year, the CDC decided to more explicitly encourage hospitals to put procedures into place to "prevent the spread of infections in the hospital," Morrisey said.

Washington County Hospital officials agreed to make the changes, she said.

Someone who comes into the emergency room with a broken arm and sits near someone with a cold should not have to get that person's cold, especially if the person with the cold could take steps to try to prevent its spread, she said.

In addition to the masks, waiting rooms also have tissues and waterless soap, she said.

A sign near the dispenser reminds people to "Cover your cough." People are discouraged from the custom of coughing into their fist - since the germs might spread when they shake someone's hands - and are instead encouraged to cough into a tissue, she said.

It is just a coincidence that the signs and masks are being put up the same year as the shortage of the influenza vaccination, she said.

But that certainly is good timing if people follow the directions on the sign and use the masks, she said.

The wearing of the masks is voluntary, she said.

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