Raleigh, N.C. — WakeMed announced Friday it will begin restricting visitors to its patient care facilities in an effort to stop the spread of influenza.
Starting Monday, visitors under the age of 18 will not be allowed in patient areas without prior approval from a doctor. Each patient will be limited to two visitors at a time, and visitors who have any symptoms of illness will be asked to return home.
Dr. West Lawson, chief medical officer for WakeMed, said the restrictions are necessary to help reduce the risk of infection for patients and employees during one of the harshest flu seasons to hit the state in the past decade.
“As health care providers, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to protect our patients from the spread of illness,” Lawson said. “Our patients are more acutely ill than at most health care facilities, and contracting the flu can significantly complicate or delay recovery and discharge.”
The number of people going to the hospital with flu-like symptoms is up 30-fold from a year ago, officials said.
WakeMed spokeswoman Heather Monackey said the restrictions weren't put in place immediately to allow the hospital to get everything in order ahead of time.
WakeMed joins other health care providers who have restricted visitors because of flu. Duke University Health System, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton and FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst have implemented similar guidelines.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has said that flu activity in the state is at the highest level recorded in the past decade. There have been 14 flu-related deaths since early October, with 11 of the deaths in patients ages 65 and older.
During the 2011 flu season, only nine people in North Carolina died.
"This is one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had, certainly in recent years," said Dr. Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health. "Every year is different. It’s hard to predict what will happen."
The flu season is peaking now and is expected to last at least another six weeks. Moore said people can still get a flu shot and be protected against the virus.
Free flu shots are available from most local health departments and many providers. Visit flu.nc.gov for more information.
"We’ll have flu still certainly circulating into January and February, but we hope not at the levels we’ve seen so far," Moore said.