January 30, 2013

Heavy flu season prompts area hospitals to limit visits from children

Franklin Memorial Hospital and MaineGeneral Medical Center aim to protect patients

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

This flu season, two local hospitals are restricting visits by children to protect the health of patients.

Franklin Memorial Hospital and MaineGeneral Medical Center both have initiated restrictions to limit visiting children until the end of the epidemic.

Franklin Memorial Hospital's Maternal and Child Unit is not allowing children under the age of 12 to visit unless they are in a patient's immediate family and in good health, according to MaryAnne Goodwin, a registered nurse and the unit's manager.

The special restrictions announced Tuesday are to protect young children and others who are among the most vulnerable to catching the flu, she said.

All other visitors also must be feeling well and should wash their hands before visiting, she said.

Goodwin said the hospital also encourages visitors throughout the year to wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick.

MaineGeneral Medical Center is not allowing visitors who are younger than 16 and not in a patient's family, according to Sarah Webster, a spokeswoman for hospital with campuses in Waterville and Augusta.

The hospital placed limits on visitors starting in mid-December in response to flu season and it also is trying to restrict patients to two visitors at a time, she said.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, those most vulnerable to flu are young children, pregnant women, seniors and people with ongoing health problems such as chronic lung disease or asthma. The CDC lists people in these categories as most at risk of not only catching the flu but developing serious complications.

In December, a 6-year-old Benton girl who had not been vaccinated was the state's first pediatric flu death since 2010.

Flu season began in Maine in mid-December. On average, it lasts 12 weeks.

The epidemic reportedly has peaked, but cases are still expected to continue cropping up, according to the CDC.

As of Tuesday, there were 144 reported influenza cases, about 14 times more than the 10 cases reported to the CDC last year.

The data come from institutions required to report flu cases, and do not represent the epidemic's true scope. Most cases are not reported.

The Maine CDC is asking people to help prevent the flu from spreading by getting vaccinated, washing their hands, staying home if sick and covering coughs with a sleeve or a tissue.

Kaitlin Schroeder -- 861-9252

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