Several area hospitals are restricting visitors and imposing other temporary rules to try to limit the spread of H1N1 and seasonal flu.
University of Kentucky health officials said Wednesday they are temporarily excluding visitors under age 18 from hospital rooms and patient-care areas to help protect patients and health care workers from the flu.
One exception: parents or guardians under age 18 can visit their children in the hospital.
There also are restrictions on the number of adult visitors patients can have at one time.
UK's policy applies to all UK HealthCare clinic and hospital operations, including the University of Kentucky Hospital, UK HealthCare Good Samaritan Hospital and all Kentucky Clinic locations.
Dr. Chris Nelson, UK's medical director for infection control, said the policies at UK and other hospitals are aimed at those under 18 because they are the most likely "reservoirs" carrying the H1N1 virus, which they say could spread to hospital patients.
UK also said patients will be allowed only one adult visitor at a time, except for Kentucky Children's Hospital, where two parents may stay with a child.
UK — along with some other hospitals — is recommending generally that anyone who feels sick or might have been exposed to someone who is sick should refrain from visiting patients.
"These are extraordinary times, and we must take measures to protect our patients and staff, so we have amended our policy based on guidance from national experts," Nelson said. "We will continue to monitor the influenza situation and will return to the normal visitation policy when levels have declined."
Hospitals in some parts of the country are limiting overall access, but Nelson said that isn't practical at UK, given the size of the facility.
"If would be very difficult for us to limit the flow of patients ... and screen everyone walking into the building," he said. "But we do ask that people try as best they can to limit the number of people coming to the hospital or clinics."
According to Nelson, patient loads at UK have risen sharply over the last two weeks but have not yet reached levels that would justify putting emergency plans in effect.
He said the UK Hospital emergency room saw 24 people with flu-like symptoms in one 24-hour period a few days ago. Previously, the emergency room was seeing eight to 10 patients per day with such symptoms. Numbers of patients with other complaints have also increased, he said.
"The ER is very busy at 130 patients a day," Nelson said. "But we've been seeing 165 patients a day on average for at least the last month. That's becoming burdensome."
UK is taking several steps to prevent patients with flu from infecting others, Nelson said. For example, patients entering the emergency room are asked upon registration if they have flu-like symptoms. Those who do are separated from other patients. Other areas of the hospital are taking similar steps.
Meanwhile, Nelson said patients who know they'll be entering the hospital in coming weeks probably should seek the H1N1 vaccine. He also said anyone who is in a high-risk group, has a child at home 6 months of age or younger or who comes in contact with such young children, should get the vaccine.
Unfortunately, however, vaccine remains in short supply.
"It concerns us that we're going to get into the height of this pandemic ... before we have a significant number of the population immunized," Nelson said. "That's been the worry from the get-go."
Nelson said that until H1N1 immunizations become more widely available, people should continue to practice good hygiene, stay home if sick, keep surfaces in the home clean and avoid crowds if possible.
Other area hospitals that are limiting visitors or considering doing so:
■ St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington asks that those under 18 not visit its obstetrics area unless they are family members of patients. Visitation to nursery and neonatal areas is limited to patients' mothers and fathers.
■ Lexington's Central Baptist Hospital has made no visitation policy changes but is monitoring the flu situation daily. The hospital says generally that people should not visit if they are feeling sick.
■ Richmond's Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center asks that those under 18 avoid visiting its Women's Care Center, which includes the nursery and labor and delivery hall.
■ Those under 18 are asked not to visit the Georgetown Community Hospital unless they are seeking medical treatment. The hospital also says those over 18 who have had flu-like symptoms should not visit until they've been told by a doctor that they are no longer contagious.
■ Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset is asking those under 18 to visit only if they are seeking care.
Health authorities recommend generally that you check visitation policies at your local hospital before going to visit a patient.