(FOX19) - Hospitals are beginning to see an increase in the number of flu virus cases. In addition to flu, the Greater Cincinnati Health Council said there are also several outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) reported throughout the region.
Many hospitals in southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana have implemented limited visitation policies to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases to hospital patients.
For the hospitals that are limiting visitors, anyone who is ill with respiratory symptoms such as couching, sneezing and runny nose will not be allowed to visit.
Most hospitals implementing this policy also prohibit visitation by anyone under age 14.
The decision about visiting restrictions are based on the types of patients hospitals serve, the Greater Cincinnati Health Council said. Those with obstetrics, pediatric, burn, transplant or ICU patients may be more restrictive.
For hospitals providing obstetrical services, there may be exceptions for a newborn's siblings who have received their flu vaccination at least seven to 14 days prior to visiting.
"Winter brings an increase in a number of respiratory illnesses, not just flu, and this year we have the added concern over the spread of pertussis," said Tonda Francis, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council. "Although we know it's difficult for family members and friends to not be able to visit their loved ones in the hospital, we also know visitors wouldn't want to make their loved ones even sicker than they already are."
There are "respiratory etiquette" practices in place, as well. This includes alcohol hand gel, tissues and face-masks made available to patients and visitors throughout the hospitals, and in some cases there is a separate area in waiting rooms for people with any respiratory illness symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. It also recommends careful hand-washing, coughing and sneezing into a sleeve or a tissue, and staying home from work or school when you are sick.
For more information on flu prevention, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.
According to the Greater Cincinnati Health Council, area hospitals plan to discontinue visiting restrictions on or about March 15, 2014, unless respiratory illness remains high in Tri-State at that time.
If you're planning to visit a loved one in the hospital, call ahead of time to learn about the specific policies in place.