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As flu spreads, hospital visits restricted, vaccine promoted

(MCT) — BLOOMINGTON — Limiting hospital visitors and shifting around flu vaccine to make sure there’s enough supply to handle increased demand were two ways that the Bloomington-Normal medical community responded Monday to the nationwide influenza outbreak.

“We began visiting limitations this afternoon,” said Pam Bierbaum, infection preventionist with Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, Normal. The temporary measures were implemented to protect vulnerable patients from potential flu exposure, she said.

Hospital visitors must be over age 18, and no more than two visitors at a time are allowed in any hospital room. Hospital staff may allow exceptions.

OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, Bloomington, and OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center, Pontiac, have similar restrictions, said Christy McFarland of St. Joseph and Pam Meiner of Saint James.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln is restricting visitors under 18 in the Family Maternity Suites and is reminding visitors not to visit if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms and to use hand sanitizer and masks, spokeswoman Angela Stoltzenburg said.

Anyone who feels ill shouldn’t visit hospitalized patients or newborns, hospital officials said.

Visitors showing signs of respiratory illness will be asked to wear a mask and may not be allowed to visit a patient. Visitors are asked to wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer before entering and exiting a patient’s room.

“Everyone has been understanding of the precautions and why,” Meiner said.

Illinois Department of Public Health reported that, statewide, 368 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units for flu-related illness. Twenty-seven of those people have died, including one in McLean County.

At Saint James and OSF PromptCare in Livingston County, a steady stream of patients continued Monday. “Since Friday, we have seen four new confirmed cases of influenza through our outpatient side and one new confirmed case through our emergency department,” Meiner said.

Hospitals and urgent care centers have been able to handle the demand. But because of high patient volumes at PromptCare, OSF recommended Monday that flu patients call their doctor’s office first for available appointments before visiting PromptCare, McFarland said.

As medical professionals reiterated that it’s not too late to get a flu shot to reduce the risk of getting influenza, flu vaccine was being shifted around to handle the demand.

At Saint James, the hospital and doctors’ offices were low on vaccine Monday but were working to secure additional vaccine.

At Advocate Medical Group, a few rural offices (El Paso, Lexington and Fairbury) that had run out of their initial doses are getting more from another office with ample supply, spokesman Eric Alvin said.

Woodford County Health Department still has vaccine available. McLean County Health Department has vaccine for patients of doctors’ offices that have run out of vaccine, spokeswoman Kera Simon said.

Today and Wednesday, an additional 7,000 doses of flu vaccine will be delivered to Jewel-Osco pharmacies to respond to rising demand, spokeswoman Karen May said.

“All of our Bloomington-Normal pharmacies currently have flu vaccine in stock and they are all scheduled to receive some of the additional shipment also,” May said.

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