By Katie Demeria
With flu season in full swing, Valley Health officials announced new restrictions to visiting hours in an attempt to protect patients from exposure.
Starting Jan. 10, visiting hours will be limited to four hours a day, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. All visitors to Valley Health hospitals must also be at least 18-years-old.
All Valley Health facilities will be impacted by the restrictions, including Winchester Medical Center, Winchester Rehabilitation Center, Warren Memorial Hospital and Shenandoah Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Nicolas Restrepo, Vice President for Medical Affairs at Winchester Medical Center, said the limitations were made in an effort to ensure patient safety.
"The flu season rapidly accelerated in the area over the past week or so," Restrepo said. "The number of patients with the flu has increased not only in number but in severity."
The data Valley Health officials use when making the decision to limit visiting hours comes from within the health system, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Galbraith.
"We monitor baseline flu activity in the emergency department," Galbraith said. "When we see those numbers change, that's when we start to feel concern about a lot of flu in the community."
Between Dec. 22 and Dec. 28, only 16 patients had flu like symptoms out of the 1312 that visited emergency rooms. But during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 11, the hospitals have seen 50 out of 926 patients showing flu like symptoms.
"You can see, that is a significant change from our baseline," Galbraith said.
Patients assign one person as their care partner, and this individual is not restricted in their visiting hours, Restrepo said.
"We ask that care partners be vaccinated from the flu, and if they are showing flu symptoms, or if they have been around someone who has the flu, that the patient appoint someone else to be the care partner," he said.
Other exemptions from the restrictions may include visits made by new siblings, at the end of life and immediately after surgery, according to a Valley Health news release. Other exemptions may be made on a case-by-case basis.
Visitors must be 18-years-old simply as a further precaution, Restrepo said. School-age children are generally more likely to be exposed to illnesses, and thus more likely to bring them into hospitals.
Dr. Gregory Byrd of Shenandoah Memorial Hospital said the restrictions are especially necessary because influenza can be a very serious illness.
"People still die from it today, not infrequently," he said. "It predisposes them to conditions like pneumonia, and it can complicate what patients are already experiencing, so we want to limit that exposure as much as possible."
Byrd said the best way to prevent the flu from spreading is by getting vaccinated.
"It protects the individual from getting the flu, and the more people who get the vaccine, the less people who could potentially pass it on to others," he said. "Bringing patients flowers is one thing, but bringing them the flu is something nobody wants."
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org