(FOX19) - Many hospitals in Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Indiana have implemented limited visitation policies to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases to hospital patients.
Hospitals are beginning to see an increase in the number of flu virus cases. They are also several outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) throughout the region.
The goal of limited visitation is to minimize the spread of respiratory diseases to hospital patients. For the hospitals that are limiting visitors, most are initiating the following restrictions:
- No visitation by anyone who is ill with any respiratory symptoms including coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, etc.
- No visitation by anyone under age 14
Hospitals' decisions about visiting restrictions vary with the types of patients they serve and the specific services provided. For example, hospitals serving special patient populations such as obstetrics, pediatric, burn, transplant or ICU patients may institute more restrictive visitation policies.
Also, hospitals that provide obstetrical services may make exceptions to the restrictions for a newborn's siblings who have received their flu vaccination at least seven to 14 days prior to visiting. Hospitals will consider other exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
"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."
Vaccination of health care workers is a primary strategy being used by hospitals in the region to ensure that nurses and others who interact with patients have received vaccines and won't inadvertently spread to their patients.
Also, hospitals have put "respiratory etiquette" practices in place. Alcohol hand gel, tissues and face-masks are available to patients and visitors throughout the hospitals, particularly in emergency departments and waiting rooms, and in some cases a separate area has been established in waiting rooms for individuals with any respiratory illness symptoms.
"Please use good common sense to prevent the spread of germs that may make others sick," said Francis. "If you have a cold, cough, the flu or other respiratory illness, don't visit patients in hospitals or other health care facilities. In fact, the best precaution is to stay home. If you must go out, remember to cover your cough and wash your hands frequently."
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.
"It is not too late to get a flu shot," said Francis. "Even though flu season is ramping up, there is plenty of time to get protected before flu kicks into high gear." There is no anticipated shortage of the vaccine this year.
Most area hospitals plan to discontinue visiting restrictions on or about March 15, 2014, unless respiratory illness is still highly prevalent in the Tri-State at that time.
For more information on flu prevention, click here.