Chicago – New visitor restrictions have been implemented in hospitals due to an uncommon late-winter increase in influenza cases.

The flu, or as medically referred, influenza, is a viral respiratory infection that develops in the lungs and is spread from person to person when sneezing or direct contact with secretions. This infection can be deadly for older people, young children and people with certain health conditions.

The university of Chicago Hospitals. Credit: University of Chicago

Generally, Chicago experiences flu season from October to May, and in the past three years, flu season has begun by early January. However, this year’s flu season began later than usual.

This winter, flu cases have increased all across the Illinois state. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of February 27, there had been 326 influenza cases that had required intensive care admissions. By comparison, on the week of December 26, hospitals only admitted 49 cases.

According to health professionals, the flu season peaked later than usual due to milder temperatures, but it is unknown if this is the actual cause of the increase. Nonetheless, hospitals in Illinois have noticed the changes and began taking precautions.

Hospitals are reacting

On February 22, hospitals enacted restrictions that ban any person who has flulike symptoms from visiting patients in any medical center of the area.

Health professionals also advised everyone to wash hands frequently, stay at home when sick and getting a flu shot if they haven’t been vaccinated.

“When somebody acquires influenza, they have no symptoms in the first 24 hours even though they are contagious,” said Stephen Sokalski, chief of infectious disease and epidemiology at Advocate Christ Medical Center. Children “are the highest risk individuals to either be incubating (the flu) or be contagious … and they’re brought to the hospital to visit very ill patients. Because of that … we have come up with our standard recommendations (to limit visitors),” as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn was one of the first hospitals to implement the restrictions.

Other hospitals in Chicago like the Northwestern Memorial and Prentice Women’s Hospital are also taking similar restrictions but are also screening patients for flu symptoms before they come in.

Source: Chicago Tribune