Children aren't allowed to visit Duke University Health System hospitals, at least for the time being.

Effective Jan. 8, Duke Health imposed restrictions to those visiting hospital and ambulatory surgery patients and banned visitors under the age of 18 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of flu. No more than two adults can be visiting an individual room at a given time. Additionally, any visitor with a fever, cough, flu-like symptoms or respiratory symptoms is to avoid visiting the hospital.

“If you’re sick with respiratory symptoms, visiting people in the hospital is not for you,” Associate Professor of Medicine Cameron Wolfe wrote in an email. “That equally applies to our staff, who we always encourage to go home if they’re getting sick.”

These temporary initiatives were enacted due to the current severity of the influenza outbreak. This year's flu season is more intense than any since the 2009 swine flu pandemic and is still getting worse, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a telephone news conference Friday.

For those permitted to visit the hospital under the new restrictions, a few recommendations are in place.

"Wash your hands frequently and use our hand washing stations that we place at the front of every entrance," noted Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist.

The restriction on underage visitors is operationally challenging, Wolfe wrote, but necessary because younger children tend to be worse than adults at managing hand hygiene and can easily spread respiratory viruses. 

With prior approval from health care providers and in special circumstances, however, children under 18 are permitted to visit.

“We, of course, allow unique situations to evolve, such as palliative care circumstances, provided we’ve thought carefully,” Wolfe wrote. 

The initiatives are temporary and Wolfe wrote that though the measures are imperfect, he expects that they will make an impact, especially at the peak times of viral transmission. 

“No one single measure completely eliminates flu from coming into our hospital,” he wrote. “Especially given that most people become infectious just before they start showing signs and symptoms. As a result, they don’t usually do things to keep out of the way of vulnerable patients or family.” 

Beyond hospital visitors, the restrictions also affect hospital volunteers. Sharon Swanson, arts and health program coordinator and volunteer services manager, wrote in an email that volunteers—both community and Duke student volunteers—are expected to not report to volunteer assignments if they display any flu or cold symptoms.

“Our primary focus is the health and safety of our patients and our volunteers, so we do require 100 percent compliance with the flu shot policy for all volunteers, which is the same as the policy for hospital staff,” she wrote. “In addition, volunteers are not authorized to enter the rooms of patients with contact or airborne precautions.”