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Local hospitals tighten visitation rules ahead of flu season

Enforcement of visitation policies at Hilton Head Hospital and Hardeeville's Coastal Carolina Hospital will be heightened for the upcoming flu season, according to a press release.

As precautions to slow the spread of the virus, the hospitals will provide free vaccinations to all staff members and encourage staff and visitors to wash their hands frequently with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, according to the news release.

Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell said staff will be more strictly enforcing all of its visitor policies.

All visitors must check in at the information desk in the main lobby. Visits will be limited to 20 to 30 minutes, and anyone with flu symptoms is advised not to visit people in the hospital, the release said.

Only two visitors will be allowed in each room during visiting hours, which are 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Hilton Head and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Hardeeville for general patients. Children younger than 12 will not be permitted without permission from the hospital nursing supervisor.

More than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for flu-related complications, according to a 2004 U.S. Centers for Disease Control study. A 2010 CDC report estimated the flu is associated with an average of 23,000 deaths each year, although that number ranged from 3,300 a year to nearly 50,000 a year over the last 30 years.

Nick Davidson, the preparedness director for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Region 8, which includes Beaufort County, said an average of 700 flu-related deaths occurs in South Carolina each year.

The CDC predicted that H1N1, or "swine flu" -- which last year caused the first global outbreak of a disease caused by a new flu virus in 40 years -- will continue to spread this season.

NEED A FLU SHOT?

Seasonal flu shots will be available at Hilton Head Hospital, 25 Hospital Blvd. on Hilton Head Island, Thursday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.; and at Coastal Carolina Hospital, 1000 Medical Center Drive, Hardeeville, Oct. 14, 8 a.m.-noon. Shots are $25 each, or free for Medicare recipients. No insurance will be accepted or filed.

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