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Influenza case increase causes some hospitals to restrict visitors

WT24 Desk

An uncommon late-winter uptick in influenza cases has prompted some Chicago-area hospitals to implement visitor restrictions, The Chicago Tribune reports.  Officials are seeing a statewide flu increase, the Illinois Department of Public Health said. As of Feb. 27, there had been 326 intensive care admissions for influenza this winter, the agency said. There were 49 by the week ending Dec. 26, the Tribune previously reported.

The flu season in Chicago, which typically runs from October to May, has peaked by early January in the past three years, but the later seasonal peak this season could be due in part to milder temperatures, health professionals said. Area hospitals have taken notice, and some are taking precautions.

The hospital responded Feb. 22 by enacting restrictions that ban visitors younger than 18, and any adult visitors who have flu-like symptoms. Similar restrictions and other precautions are in place at hospitals throughout the area as health professionals advise everyone to wash hands frequently, stay home when sick and consider a flu shot if they haven’t already been vaccinated as this flu season’s peak seems to be later than in recent years.

Christ’s restrictions reflect that the flu is affecting children, who could be visiting grandparents or other patients at the hospital, Sokalski said, adding that some kids could have the flu but not yet know it.

“When somebody acquires influenza, they have no symptoms in the first 24 hours even though they are contagious,” he said. Children “are the highest risk individuals to either be incubating (the flu) or be contagious … and they’re brought into the hospital to visit very ill patients. Because of that … we have come up with our standard recommendations (to limit visitors).”

The Cook County Department of Public Health has noticed the increase. Although the department doesn’t track every reported case of influenza, it tracks cases when a patient is admitted to the ICU, said Kelley Bemis, enhanced surveillance program manager.

Tracking and predicting influenza is difficult, but the virus lives longer when it is cold and dry. Milder temperatures for most of the winter could be a reason the flu did not peak in December, health experts told the Tribune last month. The average temperature in the Chicago area during December was 39 degrees, more than 11 degrees warmer than average.

At Northwestern Memorial and Prentice Women’s hospitals in Chicago, visitor precautions are also in effect. After reports from the Chicago Department of Public Health showed an increase in influenza, the hospitals on Tuesday issued an advisory that anyone who is sick should not visit a patient, said spokeswoman Kara Spak. Patients are also screened for influenza symptoms in all departments when they first come in, she said.

At Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora, officials enacted restrictions after noticing an increase in flu patients during the same time period as Christ, although there was quite an age range, said Laura Marconnet, infection control manager at Mercy. “We are seeing patients in the 30 to 50 age group all the way from pediatrics to the elderly. The fact the flu is affecting all age groups prompted us to this call for action,” Marconnet said.

Several hospital visitor restrictions are now in place. Visitors under the age of 18 are not allowed to visit any unit and a maximum of two people over 18 are able to visit at any one time. People with upper respiratory infection symptoms should refrain from visiting the hospital, officials said. Visitors with flu symptoms will be required to wear a facial mask, and those patients who are in isolation for flu treatment will be limited to only visitors essential for their emotional well-being and care.

At Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, officials said they are encouraging patients to restrict visitors, especially those younger than 12.

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