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Hospitals announce flu-related visitation restrictions

By Josh Bergeron

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A widespread flu outbreak prompted multiple health care systems on Thursday to announce restrictions on hospital visitors age 12 and younger.

The hospitals include Novant Health Rowan Medical Center in Salisbury and Carolinas HealthCare System Northeast in Concord.

Starting at 7 a.m. Friday, visitors younger than 12 will be asked to stay out of the hospitals. Children may be allowed access to hospital areas in special circumstances, such as when a family member is dying, a news release said.

Teenagers who have a runny nose, sore throat or cough also will be encouraged not to visit patients.

“The flu virus can be extremely dangerous to people who have compromised immune systems, cancer, kidney disease and other chronic conditions,” said Dr. David Priest, medical director for infection prevention at Novant Health. “In order to protect our patients, we are asking members of the public who are 12 years and under or who may be sick with the influenza virus to not visit these facilities at this time.”

In addition to Novant Health, other health care systems announcing restrictions include Carolinas HealthCare System, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Cone Health. A news release said the hospitals would evaluate the visitation restrictions on a weekly basis.

The restrictions come as cases of the flu in North Carolina are spreading rapidly, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The flu season began to peak at the end of January, said Angie Worley, a nursing supervisor at the Rowan County Health Department.

Ann Mathew, a nurse practitioner at the Health Department, said this year’s flu season seems to be more severe than in previous years. Mathew said patients who have received care at the Health Department seem to be affected by fatigue more severely than prior years. She said patients have experienced higher fevers than usual.

“I believe in Rowan County it’s more prevalent,” Mathew said. “Whenever I ask the patients about sick contacts, they pretty much tell me, ‘The whole school is out sick’ or ‘My entire work is out sick.’ That’s just from what I’ve seen.”

The best way to prevent the flu, Mathews said, is to get a flu shot. Hygiene — washing hands, using hand sanitizer and covering your mouth after coughing — is also important, she said.

Worley said people should stay home for 24 hours after getting over a fever.

In North Carolina, 32 people have died from the flu since the season began in October. In the most recent week — Feb. 5-11 — eight people died from the flu across the state. Most of the deaths reported to the state were of people older than 65.

The Rowan County Health Department hasn’t received recent reports of any local flu-related deaths.

For people who haven’t yet received a flu vaccine, Worley said, shots are available at the Rowan County Health Department. It’s never too late to get a shot, Mathew said.

Children younger than 18 can get a flu vaccine at the Health Department for free if they meet guidelines. Pregnant women also can get a free flu shot at the Health Department.

To contact the Health Department, call 704-216-8777.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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