Peninsula News

Kids face restrictions to prevent H1N1 spread

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A number of Bay Area hospitals say extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, so a ban on young visitors at some hospitals is taking place to help prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu.

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Kelly is one of a growing number of parents worried her son is sick with the H1N1 virus.

"We just came from our pediatrician's office and we're dropping off a swab to see if he does have H1N1, because he does have a lot of the symptoms," she said.

Many Bay Area schools have begun vaccinating students for H1N1. Absenteeism is running anywhere from 3 percent in the San Jose Unified School District to as high as 17 percent at one Marin County school.

School-aged children are especially vulnerable to the virus and it spreads quickly in group settings, which is why starting Monday, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital will ban children under the age of 16 from visiting.

It is the first time the facility has ever adopted such restrictions.

"Our hospital serves a large number of highly immuno-compromised babies, children and pregnant women and so we take these extraordinary measures to keep them safe and well," hospital spokesperson Kathleen Mathews said.

Hospitals across the country are taking similar precautions, putting various bans on young visitors. There is no magic number, but the restrictions generally range from under 12 to under 18.

But Kaiser Permanente and other hospitals are opting not to restrict visitors by age. Most hospitals ask anyone with flu symptoms not to visit and also provide stations offering hand sanitizer, face masks and tissue.

At Stanford Hospital, there will be exceptions that allow children to visit terminally ill patients or the emergency room.

"You can't plan a baby-sitter when you have an emergency event in your life and so we will not be limiting visitors in the emergency room," Stanford Hospital nurse Nancy Lee said.

The hospitals that do implement visitor restrictions anticipate them being in place until spring.

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