MOREHEAD CITY — Carteret Health Care will impose visitation limits at the hospital beginning Wednesday because of a recent uptick of flu activity in the region.

The following visitation policies will be in place until further notice:

•    No children under the age of 12 should come to the hospital, including the Emergency Department, cafeteria, waiting rooms and outpatient areas, unless it’s for care.

•    Only one to two visitors per patient are permitted at a time, including in the waiting area, Emergency Department and cafeteria.

•    Only healthy visitors should come to the hospital. Do not visit if you have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting or respiratory problems.

Valerie Payne, director of infection prevention at Carteret Health Care, said hospital officials made the decision last week to impose visitation limits because of increased flu activity in the area.  

“We’ve been seeing increasing numbers of positive flu cases coming into the emergency room in the last few weeks,” she said Friday. “We’ve been seeing even more over the past seven to 10 days, especially.”

Ms. Payne noted the visitation guidelines have changed slightly from last year. Previously, nobody under the age of 18 was permitted to visit the hospital while restrictions are in place, but this year, that changed to 12 years and younger.

“That still provides the safety we’re looking for, but is a bit more feasible for the community to adhere to,” Ms. Payne said.

The hospital monitors regional and statewide flu activity to help decide whether to put visitation restrictions in place. Ms. Payne said the hospital also communicates closely with other nearby facilities, including other hospitals, to gain a full picture of the prevalence of flu in the area.

The N.C. Division of Public Health tracks statewide flu activity and releases weekly reports during the flu season, which lasts October through May. Ms. Payne said the division’s latest report at the time, released Dec. 29, showed flu activity was widespread throughout the state.

“Coupled with our own observations, that really triggered us to put the restrictions in place,” she said.

According to NCDPH, 10 people in North Carolina have died of the flu this season, so far. Health officials warn the very young, elderly and those with certain health conditions are most at risk of developing life-threatening complications from flu.

Ms. Payne said it is not too late to receive a flu vaccination to protect against disease this season. The County Health Department offers a flu shot at its office, 3820 Bridges St. in Morehead City.  

As always, Ms. Payne recommends everyone practice good respiratory etiquette to help prevent the spread of flu. That includes frequent handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes. She also asks anyone with flu-like symptoms to stay home to keep the disease from spreading to the public.

Last year’s flu season was particularly widespread and deadly. Ms. Payne said so far, activity this season is tracking at a similar rate to that of the previous two years, but it is nearly impossible to predict how the rest of the season will shake out.  

“We can’t really predict if a trend will continue through a season or when flu activity will peak,” she said. “…It’s hard to know exactly what to expect for the future, but we continue to monitor cases closely.”

Flu activity tends to peak in February or early March, but can remain at elevated levels through the end of the season.

Ms. Payne said the visitation limits at the hospital help keep the community healthy by preventing the spread of flu.

“We really appreciate the community’s participation by limiting visitation,” she said. “We know it can be an inconvenience, but the group effort to protect vulnerable people is key to prevention.”

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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