by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hospitals in the Charlotte area are making changes to keep patients from getting the flu.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that flu activity in the state is at its highest level in a decade.
Officials with Carolinas HealthCare System said they are restricting children 12 and under from visiting pediatric units and neonatal intensive care units.
They are offering masks to visitors and encouraging hand washing.
They said by the second week of December last year, they recorded 274 cases of flu-like illness at emergency departments at nine hospitals in the Charlotte area.
By the second week of December this year, they counted 1,453.
Representatives with CaroMont Health said they are making changes at Gaston Memorial Hospital as well. They've recorded 101 confirmed cases in the past few weeks.
"It is skyrocketing this year," Dr. Maria Glenn said. "Sick, very fast, high numbers."
The hospital is also offering masks in its emergency department.
"I think it's a good thing to have," Bryan Clark said, as he and his wife Jennifer put on masks and put a mask on their 3-year-old, Joseph.
They brought Joseph to see a doctor for a pain in his knee but said they weren't taking any chances.
"It's scary," Jennifer Clark said. "But we just try to wash our hands, take care of what we can take care of."
Gaston Memorial Hospital is also restricting access to certain parts of the hospital. It's posted signs advising that children 12 and under should avoid visiting. Although the hospital already has hand-sanitizer pumps attached to walls in high-traffic areas, it's added stand-alone hand-sanitizing stations near entrances to remind people to use them.
Glenn said people should take bottles of sanitizer with them wherever they go.
"You just want to sanitize, sanitize, cover your mouth and just try to protect yourself as much as you can," Glenn said.
She said people should also make sure they'll stay well-rested and don't miss any medications over the holidays, because that can also compromise immune systems.
State Health Director Laura Gerald recommended that anyone over 6 months old be vaccinated.
Twelve flu-related deaths already have been reported in North Carolina.