Second wave of H1N1 infections slowing in N.C.
Posted December 21, 2009 10:54 a.m. EST
Updated December 21, 2009 6:36 p.m. EST
Chapel Hill, N.C. — WakeMed began allowing visitors under age 18 back into patient areas at its hospitals and clinics on Monday, more than two months after banning young visitors to limit the spread of the H1N1 virus.
The majority of patients with H1N1 in recent weeks have been between 25 and 50, not youth under age 18, said Barb Bisset, director of emergency services at WakeMed. Also, she said it was no longer necessary to restrict children from visiting patients because the number of H1N1 cases nationally, statewide and locally has been dropping in recent weeks.
In the first week of the 2009-10 flu season, which starts in mid-October in North Carolina, 1,465 people reported flu-like symptoms statewide, which accounted for more than 5 percent of patients seen in the reporting hospitals, clinics and physician offices, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Last week, 382 people, or 1.4 percent of patients, reported flu-like symptoms.
"We are still getting some patients, but it's dramatically less patients," Bisset said.
WakeMed was among several hospital systems across the region to restrict patient access this fall. Others that limited younger visitors included Duke University Hospital, UNC Hospitals, Moses Cone Health System and Halifax Regional Medical Center.
All WakeMed staff, especially nurses on the units, have been asked to watch visitors who enter patient care areas to ensure they don't appear ill. The hospital system also is encouraging all visitors under age 65 to receive the H1N1 vaccine, officials said.
State Epidemiologist Megan Davies said pandemics like H1N1 usually come in three waves, and the U.S. has seen only two waves of the virus since last spring. She said the lull before the potential third wave offers an opportunity for people to get immunized against H1N1.
"There's another wave that could be coming sometime in the next month to two or three months," Davies said. "It only takes eight days to two weeks to develop immunity from the time you get your vaccine, so this is the ideal time. Go now. There's plenty of vaccine. There shouldn't be long lines."
County health departments statewide are offering flu vaccines to anyone over 6 months old. For example, immunization clinics are scheduled Tuesday in Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, Fuquay-Varina and Zebulon, with both the FluMist nasal spray and shots available.