Area hospitals restrict visitors carrying the flu

Jan. 09, 2013 @ 07:01 PM

This year's flu season started earlier and has been more rampant than in previous years. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's summary update map show that influenza is "widespread" throughout the east coast and most of the country. It is "local" in a few states on the west coast. 

In light of the growing number of people infected, Carolinas Healthcare System, including Carolinas Medical Center-Union, has restricted visitations. The restrictions apply to all greater Charlotte-area hospitals. 

Children under the age of 12 are no longer allowed to visit patients in the hospital. If the child must see a patient, they have to wear a surgical mask during their visit to protect staff and other patients, according to the Carolinas Healthcare System website.

The hospital encourages anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms not to visit patients in the hospital. They list flu symptoms as fever, headaches, body aches, pain, cough, sore throat, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

"We're seeing the earliest and worst flu season we've had in about ten years," Mike Richardson, a physician with CMC-Mint Hill, said. "The part that most people don't know about flu is it is most contagious about a day or two before most people realize they're sick."

Children, particularly school-age children, are especially prone to spreading the virus, Richardson said.

The ban only impacts people looking to visit patients.

"This doesn't effect children seeking medical care. Of course, if they're ill, that's why we're there," Richardson said. 

Exceptions can be made in case of extraordinary medical circumstances, as long as the children are wearing masks. 

The emergency departments have seen a dramatic increase in patients with flu-like symptoms, from 371 in the last week of December 2011 to 1,023 in the last week of December 2012, according to their website.

According to the CDC, the number of people seeing a healthcare professional for influenza-like-illness (ILI) is above the national baseline for the fourth consecutive week. North Carolina is among the 29 states reporting high ILI activity for the last week of December. There was an increase in influenza-related hospitalizations since October. Two infant deaths reported to the CDC in the last week of December. 

Healthcare professionals encourage people to get a flu vaccine. The CDC states that everyone over six months old should get a flu vaccination, particularly the elderly, children younger than five, people with certain medical conditions, pregnant women and American Indians and Alaskan Natives. The CDC notes that those ethnic groups seem to be at higher risk of flu complications. 

The flu vaccine typically covers three strains of flu, Richardson said. They choose the strains while making the vaccine.

"From the early data, it looks like they got it right," Richardson said.

The three strains they are seeing the most of are the strains covered by the vaccine. 

"It is not too late to get a flu shot and this one really should help," Richardson said.

Washing your hands and minimizing contact with people showing flu-like symptoms is also advised. Wearing a mask can be helpful to prevent the spread of the disease, as well.