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updated: 1/10/2014 2:00 PM

As flu cases rise, hospitals tighten visitor policies

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Some area hospitals, seeing an influx of flu patients, are putting stricter visitor policies into place.

At Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to visit throughout the duration of flu season. Visitors will be limited to two people per patient at one time. And anyone with flu symptoms will not be allowed to visit.

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"We are putting these changes into effect during this flu season to keep our staff, patients and community safe," Adventist GlenOaks Hospital Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer Maria Knecht said in a statement.

At Centegra Health System's hospitals in Woodstock and McHenry, the rules -- effective Thursday -- are even more stringent, with children 14 and under not allowed to visit patients.

Only immediate family members may visit in obstetrics and pediatrics. In addition, patients will be restricted to only two visitors at a time.

Citing an increase in reported flu cases in McHenry County, hospital officials also encourage anyone sneezing or coughing to wear a mask, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face, mouth or nose.

Edward Hospital in Naperville recently increased signage encouraging visitors to follow those same preventive guidelines, but officials aren't ready to limit visitors yet.

"We have imposed restrictions in the past in particularly bad flu seasons," said Mary Anderson, the hospital's manager for infection control. "We're not ready to do that yet, but we are monitoring the situation."

Edward Hospital has seen a significant increase in patients with the flu in the past two weeks, with just over 100 cases of lab-confirmed flu infections and 12 people admitted to the hospital's intensive care units this season. Of those, 42 cases were just last week, she said.

Anderson said flu season is falling earlier than usual and targeting the young and middle-aged, rather than the elderly.

"We've had very few cases of patients 65 and over," she said.

Also, of the hospital's flu patients, 97 percent have been stricken with the H1N1 strain, she said.

"That's somewhat unusual as well," Anderson said. "We usually see a mix of influenza strains and types. It's been very H1N1 predominant."

She said it's too early to see how this flu season will compare to previous years.

"Flu seasons are very unpredictable and things could change very quickly," she said.

For now, the hospital has increased its signage reminding visitors to wear a mask if they have flu-like symptoms and encouraging them to stay home if they don't absolutely have to be there.

At Advocate Sherman Hospitalin Elgin, the number of patients being seen in the ER for the flu has risen from a typical 2 percent to about 7 percent as of last week.

The hospital isn't changing visitor policies -- yet. "We haven't made any changes yet, but we monitor this on a daily basis, and we have plans ready to launch if it becomes necessary," said Tonya Lucchetti-Hudson, the hospital's director of public affairs and marketing.

Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington has not changed its policy, said Ro Ostergaard, the hospital's spokeswoman.

At Adventist GlenOaks, there are exceptions for people with flu-like symptoms who must visit a patient. They must wear a mask and wash their hands frequently.

"We appreciate the understanding of our patients and their families while we implement this change," Knecht said. "We will continue to monitor the incidence of flu and will reinstitute our family-centered visiting policies as soon as possible."

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