In an effort to prevent the flu from spreading in local hospitals, Scripps Health is now implementing a number of visitor restrictions at its five hospitals in San Diego. This includes screening visitors for the flu and turning them away if they have flu-like symptoms. NBC 7's Lauren Lee reports.
According to Scripps Health, the interim measures – triggered by rising flu rates across both the county and U.S. – went into effect as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
The restrictions include screening each and every visitor that walks through the door.
Scripps Health says visitors “displaying symptoms of flu-like illness” will be asked to leave. Exceptions may be allowed by infection control and department supervisors for special circumstances.
Additionally, patients will be limited to a maximum of four visitors per day.
Finally, children age 14 and younger will not be allowed in any of the hospitals unless they are patients themselves or have appointments. Scripps Health says this restriction includes no children in campus lobbies, dining facilities and common areas.
The temporary restrictions will be enforced at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas and Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla.
“With cases of H1N1 influenza rising quickly in the area, we are taking precautionary measures to limit the risk of infection in our hospitals,” said Scripps Chief Medical Officer James LaBelle, MD. “We ask that visitors follow these new guidelines so that we can maintain the safest possible environment for everyone.”
NBC 7 spoke with Dr. Shawn Evans of Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla on Wednesday who said hospitals and emergency rooms have been inundated with flu cases in the last few weeks.
"We haven't been at the tip of the spear of anything overwhelming. We're certainly staffed for it. But unfortunately we're seeing an uptick [in local flu cases] and it's causing people to have significant symptoms this year," Dr. Evans explained.
Dr. Evans said the last time Scripps Health implemented these types of restrictions was about five years ago, during the 2009-2010 flu season when H1N1 was prevalent.
According to the doctor, the duration of the temporary restrictions is unknown. Scripps Health will continue to monitor flu levels in San Diego County and keep the restrictions in place or lift them, accordingly, once flu levels decrease.
NBC 7 reached out to the San Diego County Health Department Wednesday. Health officials confirmed that as of Jan. 11, there have been seven flu-related deaths in San Diego. The most current stats will be officially released Thursday.
Health officials have said that the predominant virus in the county this season has been identified as the Pandemic H1N1.
Meanwhile, nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ruled last week that the proportion of deaths from pneumonia and flu this season across the U.S. has reached the epidemic threshold, exceeding the numbers that were expected.
Locally, Scripps Health says it’s not too late for patients to get their flu shot.
Though vaccination is the best prevention method, other precautions include washing your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth and avoiding contact with sick people. Those suffering from the flu should stay home from work and school to avoid infecting others.