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Health Team

Area hospitals to set limits on young visitors

Posted October 4, 2009 6:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 4, 2009 11:48 p.m. EDT

— Central North Carolina hospitals are putting new limits in place for visitors as a precaution to limit the spread of the H1N1 and seasonal flu viruses.

Hospitals have said they are limiting visits by young people who are more likely to catch the strain of H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, that is prevalent this year. Young people are at greater risk for the H1N1 strain of the flu, according to Raleigh physician Dr. Allen Mask, because those over the age of 60 may have some resistance built up from earlier exposure in a vaccination or virus.

No one younger than 13 is permitted to visit the Newborn Critical Care Center, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Labor and Delivery Unit at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, a spokesman said.

At Duke University Hospital and WakeMed hospitals, no one under 18 is allowed to visit, and the pediatric units are limited to parents or direct caregivers. Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville has a similar policy.

Halifax Regional Medical Center in Roanoke Rapids has banned visitors 5 and younger, and discouraged visits by older children and pregnant women. At Rex Hospitals, visitors must be over the age of 12.

“We didn't make the decision lightly, but we felt that patient safety outweighed any sort of negative publicity that came along with it,” Rex Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Butler said.

The Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro has banned visitors younger than 18 from all facilities.

The H1N1 flu strain first identified in April is now responsible for almost all flu cases in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has caused more than 1 million illnesses so far, though most were mild and not reported.

Some parents said Sunday that they were in favor of the restrictions if it helps prevent the spread of the flu.

“I wouldn't want my son to come in there either ... if it is the swine flu or whatever that is going on, because he might catch it,” parent Octavia Davis said.

Other parents, like Garrett Tomzak who was taking his 6-year-old son to visit a terminally ill family friend, expressed concerns over the changes, which take effect Monday at Rex.

“That means he can't be there in the end. I guess today is the day pretty much he has to say good-bye,”  Tomzak said while at Rex.

Tomzak said he understands the reason for the restrictions but that there should be exceptions.

“You take it down to the personal level. We're here for one person, not for everybody else,” he said.

Rex officials urge parents who believe they have special circumstances to contact the hospital about the restrictions.

“We want this to be a family-centered hospital. We really have encouraged that, especially in our birth center. But, at this point, patient safety is much more important,” Butler said.

A vaccine is expected to be available beginning in October, the CDC has said. That vaccine is designated for pregnant women, those who live with or care for children 6 months or younger, health care workers, people aged 6 months through 24 years, and people with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems.