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Hospital visitors asked to immunise or wear masks during influenza season

Visitors to Waikato District Health Board hospitals will be asked to help protect sick and vulnerable patients this flu season by making sure they’ve had the influenza vaccine – and if they haven’t, they’ll be asked to wear a mask.

The new policy is an extension of the Waikato DHB’s current staff policy which encourages all healthcare workers who come into contact with patients to get vaccinated against influenza. Those that don’t get vaccinated are required to wear a mask.

Chief Executive Nigel Murray said the visitor policy came about after staff feedback: “I’m confident that the public will respect our policy and help in reducing the risk to our patients during influenza season. Influenza is a potentially serious viral infection that’s much worse than a cold and can be severe enough to require hospital treatment. Around 400 people die each year in New Zealand from influenza,” he said.

There will be masks available at the door of each of the Waikato Hospital campus wards and at the hospital entrances at Thames, Te Kuiti, Taumarunui and Tokoroa. Visitors who haven’t had their influenza vaccine will be asked to wear a mask to help protect the sick friends and whanau who they are visiting on wards and other vulnerable patients they may come into contact with while there.

Dr Murray said: “The best protection for our vulnerable patients and their families is for staff and visitors to get vaccinated, but if they can’t, then wearing a mask also helps cut down the risk of transmission of the virus.”

The visitor mask policy will apply in influenza season. The Waikato DHB’s Medical Officer of Health will declare when influenza season starts.

Staff vaccination rates are going well and are on a par with last year. Studies show that annual influenza vaccines for healthcare workers are likely to reduce illness among the patients they care for.

Dr Murray said: “As healthcare workers it is our responsibility to protect ourselves and our patients and set an example to others who may not be informed as we are about the risk and impact of influenza. We need to protect vulnerable patients from catching influenza while in our care.”

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