Greater Charlotte hospitals in Carolinas HealthCare System will restrict visitors under 12, beginning Thursday, because of the prevalence of flu in the community.
Children under 12 will be allowed visitation only under extraordinary circumstances, such as if a family member is near death. In that case, visitors will be asked to wear masks to protect themselves and others.
Hospitals affected by the tighter visitation policy are Carolinas Medical Center, Levine Childrens Hospital, CMC-NorthEast, CMC-Mercy, CMC-Pineville, CMC-Union, CMC-University, CMC-Lincoln, CMC-Randolph, Carolinas Rehabilitation, Carolinas Rehabilitation-Mercy and Carolinas Rehabilitation-Mount Holly.
Typically, during cold and flu season, visitation for children under 12 is restricted only in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. Other children and adults are asked not to visit the hospitals if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Emergency departments in the Carolinas HealthCare System are seeing a higher than usual number of patients experiencing flu-like symptoms this year 1,023 visits in the last week of 2012, compared to 371 in the last week of 2011.
Hospitals in the Novant Health system including Presbyterian Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville and Presbyterian Orthopaedic are not restricting visitors, but officials meet each week to assess the situation, spokeswoman Robin Baltimore said.
Flu season came weeks early in North Carolina this year and quickly built to the worst level in a decade. So far, 14 people across the state have died.
State health officials say the flu may now be starting to peak, but the number of new cases is likely to stay unusually high in January and February, which is typically the prime time for influenza and other viruses.
Signs that the season may be leveling off come from the number of new cases reported in a statewide surveillance network of emergency rooms and doctors offices.
Health officials say its not too late to get vaccinated against the influenza virus, but the vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect.
To reduce the odds of catching the flu, health officials also recommend frequent hand washing with soap, or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Refrain from touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands that may have touched something that carries the virus.
If experiencing flu symptoms, people should stay home from school or work to prevent spreading the virus. Symptoms include fever, headaches, body aches, cough or sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.