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Hospitals change visitation policies in response to flu epidemic

Multiple North Carolina healthcare systems have restricted hospital access in response to a flu virus that’s reached epidemic levels.

Novant Health, Carolinas Healthcare and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center this week all issued restrictions for visitors younger than 18. All three restrict children under the age of 18 from visiting patients at all. Novant and Carolinas Healthcare on Wednesday announced the restrictions, which go into effect on Friday at 8 a.m. Wake Forest Baptist announced its restrictions Tuesday, which were effective immediately.

Novant’s restrictions apply to all hospitals in its system including Novant Health Rowan Medical Center. The restriction also applies to any hospital volunteers younger than 18.

“The flu virus can be extremely dangerous to people who have compromised immune systems, cancer, kidney disease and other chronic conditions,” said Novant Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tom Zweng. “In order to protect our patients, we are asking members of the public who are younger than 18 years old or who may be sick with the influenza virus to not visit us at this time.”

Novant’s release states the restriction doesn’t apply to people who are seeking treatment for the flu.

Carolinas Healthcare’s restrictions apply to 17 facilities, including CMC-NorthEast in Concord and Stanly Regional Medical Center.

Other hospitals that have issued similar restrictions include: Duke Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill, Wakemed in Raleigh and Rex Healthcare.

In extraordinary circumstances, such as a dying family member, Novant and Carolinas Healthcare both allow exceptions to the restrictions, according to the news releases.

The Centers for Disease Control, in its weekly flu update, said the virus. is widespread in 36 states. A total of 15 children have died nationwide from the flu so far this season. North Carolina’s flu region, which includes many other states in the South East, has reported four deaths attributed to people under the age of 18.

Eight people have died in North Carolina alone from the flu since Oct. 4, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. In the 5 to 17, 25 to 49, 50 to 64 and 65 and older age groups, there’s been two deaths each in North Carolina.

The hospitalization rate nationwide in people 65 years and older is 38.3 per 100,000, which is the highest rate of any age group.

This year’s flu is exactly at the percentage needed for the CDC to declare the virus an epidemic. The total number of deaths attributed to the flu hit 6.8 percent. As of the CDC’s last weekly report, dated Dec. 20, the percentage of visits for influenza-like illness is higher than it was in any of the previous five years.

The number of states — one being North Carolina — which reported a high level of influenza-like activity spiked significantly — from 13 to 22 — since the last CDC weekly report.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246







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