Carolinas HealthCare System is restricting visitors under age 12 at its hospitals because a three-fold increase in flu cases.
The policy goes into effect Thursday at the systems Charlotte locations, including the main hospital in downtown and CMC-Pineville, which serves many residents of York and Lancaster counties.
Children under 12 will be allowed to visit only under extraordinary circumstances, such as if a family member is near death, hospital officials said. In that case, visitors will be asked to wear masks to protect themselves and others.
Springs Memorial Hospital in Lancaster also is restricting young visitors. Its restrictions have been in place since before the Christmas holidays.
Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill and Chester Regional Medical Center are urging visitors to take appropriate precautions, but are not restricting visitors. Chester recently lifted its visiting restrictions. Piedmont is encouraging that visits by children be limited.
Hospitals in the Novant Health system including Presbyterian Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, Presbyterian Hospital Huntersville and Presbyterian Orthopaedic are not restricting visitors, but officials meet each week to assess the situation, a hospital official said.
At all hospitals, visitors with flu-like symptoms are asked to stay home. Visitors also are being asked to wash their hands and, when appropriate, wear surgical masks.
Nationally, 41 states are reporting widespread cases of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the last week of December, North Carolina and South Carolina were among the states reporting high levels of cases.
As of Dec. 31 there have been 15 deaths in South Carolina and 14 in North Carolina attributed to the flu, according to state statistics.
At Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals, the number of patients in the emergency room presenting flu-like symptoms in December was 1,023, compared to 371 in December 2011. At CMC-Pineville there were 153 cases compared to 85 a year ago, hospital officials said.
Piedmont also saw a dramatic rise in the same time period. In December 2011, the Piedmont Emergency Department administered 225 flu tests. None were positive for the flu.
At Chester Regional Medical Center, there were 203 cases of flu in December. The number has dropped to 12 in January, said hospital officials. In December, seven patients were admitted to the hospital for care, she said.
Springs Memorial in Lancaster is reporting similar statistics. In December, there were 292 positive flu tests with 12 people admitted. So far in January, there have been 17 positive flu tests and two admissions, hospital officials said.
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.Don Worthington 803-329-4066