CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The early peak of the flu season is taking a dangerous toll on Mecklenburg County's most vulnerable patients.
Novant Health and Carolinas HealthCare System officials announced that beginning at 7 a.m. Friday, they will begin restricting access for visitors age 12 and under at all of its Charlotte region hospitals because of the growing number of flu cases in North Carolina.
The hospitals announced the restrictions jointly and implemented the changes at the same time to prevent confusion among the public and to avoid a patchwork of varying restrictions. Carolinas HealthCare System, Novant Health, Cone Health, and Wake Forest Baptist Health all said they were increasing the restrictions.
On Thursday it was announced that four more people died from the flu in North Carolina, raising the total to 26 this season, including two children.
There has been such a spike in flu cases that hospitals are running out of IV bags to treat other patients.
“The flu virus can be extremely dangerous to people who have compromised immune systems, cancer, kidney disease and other chronic conditions,” said Dr. David Priest, medical director for infection prevention at Novant Health. “In order to protect our patients, we are asking members of the public who are 12 years and under or who may be sick with the influenza virus to not visit these facilities at this time.”
On Thursday, Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said the flu vaccine is only 39 percent effective this year.
Harris told Channel 9 that there have been seven flu outbreaks in the county so far this year, six in assisted living facilities and one in a school -- Carmel Christian in Matthews.
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Iredell Health System announced Friday that they too were restricting visitors at Iredell Memorial Hospital due to the flu.
The hospital will not permit anyone 17 or younger to visit patients in the hospital starting Jan. 12. The restriction will be in place until further notice.
Hospitals affected by the tighter visitation policy are:
- Carolinas Medical Center
- Levine Children's Hospital
- Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy
- Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast
- Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville
- Carolinas HealthCare System Union
- Carolinas HealthCare System University
- Carolinas HealthCare System Lincoln
- Carolinas HealthCare System Cleveland
- Carolinas HealthCare System Kings Mountain
- Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge
- Carolinas HealthCare System Stanly
- Carolinas HealthCare System Anson
- Carolinas HealthCare System Behavioral Health-Charlotte
- Carolinas HealthCare System Behavioral Health-Davidson
- Carolinas Rehabilitation-Charlotte
- Carolinas Rehabilitation-NorthEast
- Carolinas Rehabilitation-Mt. Holly
- Pineville Inpatient Rehabilitation
- Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center
- Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital
- Novant Health Clemmons Medical Center
- Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center
- Novant Health Hemby Children's Hospital
- Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center
- Novant Health Kernersville Medical Center
- Novant Health Matthews Medical Center
- Novant Health Medical Park Hospital
- Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center
- Novant Health Rowan Medical Center
- Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center
- Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center
- Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center
- CaroMont Regional Medical Center
- Iredell Memorial Hospital
CaroMont Regional Medical Center announces restrictions starting Saturday morning
In order to help control the spread of flu and flu-like illness, CaroMont Health announced it will temporarily restrict hospital visitors under the age of 13 to CaroMont Regional Medical Center beginning Saturday, Jan. 13 at 7 a.m. Additionally, guests who have compromised immune systems or are experiencing flu-like symptoms should not visit a patient in the hospital during this time.
This restriction also includes visitors to the birthplace.
"The number of influenza and influenza-like illness cases presenting to CaroMont Regional's Emergency Department has continued to climb in recent days," said Dr. Todd Davis, chief medical officer at CaroMont Health. "Putting visitor restrictions in place is a necessary step to ensure we protect our patients, staff and visitors, as well as reduce the risk of exposing vulnerable populations."
Experts think the flu will only get worse.
“I don't think we've peaked yet,” Harris said.
Those statistics don’t surprise Dr. Catherine Passaretti at Carolinas Healthcare System.
“Older adults and young children don't have as strong immune systems, so they are not able to fight off infections as well as other people,” Passaretti said.
Passaretti said CMC is seeing more flu cases this year, and earlier than in the past.
What makes this year challenging is the flu shot. Experts said it is only 39 percent effective, when in years past its success rate was in the upper 60s.
“Some years, they do very good at predicting than other years,” Passaretti said.
Despite the uncertainty, Harris said the flu shot is still worth getting, especially if you have a chronic illness.
Harris said people who receive the vaccine are likely to get fewer symptoms for a reduced period of time and the flu isn't something to mess around with.
“It usually hits you like a ton of bricks,” Harris said.
Doctors say there is no shortage of Tamaflu, so if your pharmacy is out, check another pharmacy.
Officials also ask that anyone of any age who has flu-like symptoms not visit patients in the hospital.
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