FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville is at least the third hospital in North Carolina to restrict visitors because of a high number of flu cases.
There were 323 diagnosed cases of flu treated at the hospital's emergency room between Dec. 9 and last Thursday, compared with 115 cases during the last week in November, officials said.
"This is unusual to begin this early," said Dr. Chris Aul, a family practitioner who also who oversees quality and patient safety at Cape Fear Valley. "It's the nature of the flu – to spread as an epidemic."
Starting last Friday, children younger than 12 won't be allowed to visit until further notice. Also, emergency room patients are allowed only one visitor each.
"They tend to carry the virus a little more frequently, a little less severely," Aul said of children.
Last week, Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst announced similar restrictions. At Southeastern Regional, no one under 18 was allowed beyond the first floor.
"I think it portends a harsh flu season," Aul said, "but with the effect of this year's vaccine, which was spot on for this strain of virus, hopefully we'll see an early spike, then an early decrease."
The flu vaccine has been in high demand at the Cumberland County Health Department, and the agency stays open late on Tuesdays and offers free shots to uninsured patients to get as many people immunized as possible.
"We are just begging people to come in here. Please come in. We're trying to keep people from waiting," said Lauren Franklin, a public health nurse for the department.
“People are very, very concerned this year with the flu outbreak," Franklin said. "Even personally, when I’ve been to the doctor, it’s standing room only.”
North Carolina has reported three flu-related deaths so far this fall.
Officials at Cape Fear Valley also have announced plans to reduce the hospital's public entrances from 35 to eight and require all visitors to get ID badges, starting Jan. 1. A spokesman said the hospital has been developing enhancements to security for some time, and the move is not related to a specific threat.