Hospitals adopt policy to fight spread of flu

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hospitals in Suffolk and the rest of Hampton Roads beginning today will no longer allow children under the age of 18 to visit.

The decision was made in an effort to protect hospital patients from the spread of both the HINI flu and regular, seasonal flu.

“I applaud this regional approach to community safety and infection prevention,” State Health Commissioner Karen Remley, MD, said in a released statement. “Every Virginian wants to maximize safety for hospitalized patients.”

The new visitation restrictions were put into place after it was seen children and adolescents were the most susceptible to catching the HINI flu and thereby putting them at greater risk of carrying the virus to patients in the hospitals. According to medical experts, someone infected with the HINI flu can transmit the virus up to 24 hours before they even display symptoms.

“You could be a carrier and not know it,” Lynne Zultanky, director of corporate communications and media relations for Bon Secours Hampton Roads, said. “This is a public safety issue. Individuals who come into the hospital are in immuno-compromised conditions. For their safety, we don’t want to introduce any additional risks for contracting HINI.”

Cheri Hinshelwood, a spokesperson for Sentara Healthcare, added the decision to limit visitation is important now given the rise in flu rates.

“This is the right time for us to be able to take a position that will protect our patients because of the level of flu that we have in the region,” Hinshelwood said. “The interest of this it to keep flu out of our hospitals as much as possible because of the vulnerability of patients who are in our care.”

All 18 area hospitals have put these visitation measures into place and they apply only

to visitors – not to children and adolescents who are seeking medical care.

Additionally, Zultanky said while they are asking the public to take heed of this new policy, staff do realize there will be necessary exceptions.

“We’re asking the public to please cooperate with us, and we will be very compassionate,” Zultanky said. “We understand there are dads that are under age 18, and that there are end of life care issues to be addressed. We will be very open to those situations and be compassionate, but we are asking for the community to please work with us on this one. Again, this is public safety issue.”

The new visitation begins today, and will last throughout the flu season, which could be until March.