Hospitals Tighten Visitation in Effort to Combat Swine Flu

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 4, 2009

Prince William Health System and Inova Health System tightened their visitation policies Thursday to better protect patients, guests and staff members from the H1N1 virus, hospital officials said.

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause families," said Prince William Health System Chief Operating Officer Cynda Tipple, "but it is important to make this change to limit the spread and impact of flu."

Both hospital companies are not allowing guests younger than 18 to visit. In addition, guests older than 18 who are demonstrating flulike symptoms will not be allowed into the Inova patient care units and are "urged" not to visit Prince William Health System.

In both hospital companies' birthing centers, only a spouse or support person will be allowed. In the pediatric units, visitors will be limited to parents or guardians. Those changes are being made, hospital officials said, because children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to swine flu. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 pregnant women across the country died from H1N1 influenza between late April and August.

In addition, Inova is restricting visiting hours throughout all hospital units to two blocks of time -- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Only two guests may visit at a time. Spouses, parents or direct caregivers may be exempt from visiting hour limits at the discretion of the patient care director.

Inova officials said hospital guests might also be asked to wear masks or other protective clothing.

Regulations do not apply to people seeking service in the two companies' emergency departments.

On Friday, the Virginia health commissioner said the first shipments of the novel H1N1 vaccine are on their way to the commonwealth. The vaccines should arrive within a week and will first be distributed to health-care and emergency medical workers.

The state is expected to get 43,500 doses of the attenuated influenza vaccine, with the majority going to hospitals. The vaccine is given as a nasal mist and is administered in each nostril, state health officials said. It is approved for people ages 2 to 49. Additional forms of the vaccine, including an injectable one, will come within several weeks.

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