A widespread influenza outbreak has prompted Blue Mountain Health System to issue a flu advisory at both of its campuses.

The flu advisory is in effect at both the Palmerton Hospital, and Gnaden Huetten campus in Lehighton, while visitation has been restricted at The Summit at Blue Mountain Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Lehighton.

Lisa Johnson, vice president of public relations and marketing, said that as of this past Monday, Blue Mountain had 67 confirmed cases of the flu, compared to just 10 at this time last year. Adults, children and the elderly have all been affected, she said.

"That's a huge jump," Johnson said. "A lot of people are coming into our emergency rooms saying they have the flu."

Along with the flu, Johnson said individuals have also been affected by upper respiratory infections and gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis involves diarrhea or vomiting, while upper respiratory infection is the illness caused by an acute infection which involves the upper respiratory tract.

One precaution Johnson said individuals can take is to get their flu shot.

"It's not too late to get the flu shot," she said. "It does take between 10 days to two weeks to develop those antibodies."

However, just because a person gets the flu shot doesn't mean they aren't susceptible to the influenza, Johnson said.

"People are asking 'why am I getting the flu if I got the flu shot'? "You can get the flu if you've gotten the flu shot, but the symptoms are less severe and lessened in duration."

Those who receive the flu shot are likely to be rid of it within two to three days on average; whereas those who do not are more likely to have it anywhere from five to nine days on average, Johnson said.

Another precaution Johnson said individuals should take is to wash their hands, and keep them away from their eyes, nose, ears and face.

"Hand sanitation gel is a great product," she said. "When you have the opportunity, wash your hands with warm, soapy water."

Johnson also advised individuals to use a paper towel to turn off the spigot and open the door to public restrooms; and to cough into their elbow when they sneeze.

"As of [last] Wednesday, visitors saw flu advisory stations at the main entrances, emergency room entrances; and at all public areas, there are hand sanitation dispensers, as well as masks at all main entrances," she said. "Even if you don't have the flu, but have upper respiratory, you're better off wearing the mask."

Johnson said it's nice to see individuals take precaution, and added "this is probably one of the worst flu seasons in the last decade."

Those who suspect they have any flu-like symptoms should call their primary care physician, Johnson said.

"We do have flu advisories in both hospitals, and The Summit is closed to visitors," she said. "We have confirmed cases of the flu at The Summit, and have had patients admitted to Lehighton, but not Palmerton."

Despite the large turnout, Johnson said the hospital continues to serve any and all individuals.

"We are not turning anybody away," she said. "We're busier than normal with people with those three issues."

As a result, visitors are urged to not bring any children, or the elderly, with them, Johnson said.

"They can always call the hospital to talk to their loved ones," she said. "We're strongly advising to limit visitation."

Johnson said visitation is closed at The Summit, except for special instances.

"It's basically for the public," she said. "Prevention is always better than treatment."

As of Friday afternoon, Johnson said children under the age of 12 will not be permitted to visit patients, and there are to be no more than two visitors at a patient's bedside.

She said Blue Mountain still has the free flu vaccine, and that individuals may contact the Workforce Wellness Office in Lehighton at (610) 377-7269, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Health Department office in Jim Thorpe at (570) 325-4106, to make an appointment.