Local hospitals are encouraging people who have influenza-like symptoms to avoid visiting patients in the hospital, and tighter visitation restrictions could come any day.

Local hospitals are encouraging people who have influenza-like symptoms to avoid visiting patients in the hospital, and tighter visitation restrictions could come any day.

Rogue Valley Medical Center is asking parents who have babies in the neonatal intensive care unit to avoid bringing siblings and other children to visit. RVMC also is asking that just two adults visit any newborn in the NICU, and those two adults be the same two people for the duration of the infant's stay.

Michele Strickland, RVMC's clinical manager for children's services, said tiny infants don't have fully developed immune systems and could be especially vulnerable to influenza viruses such as H1N1. Strickland said children should not visit other youngsters who are hospitalized in the pediatric units.

Providence Medford Medical Center is asking people to avoid visiting patients in its emergency department, and nurses in the department are wearing masks when they treat patients who have respiratory symptoms.

Flu-like symptoms include fever, body aches, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, extreme fatigue and a dry cough. Some people may have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms can develop quickly, sometimes overnight or within hours.

Tighter visitation restrictions could come at any time as hospital managers assess the spread and severity of the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Other Oregon hospitals have implemented more severe restrictions on visitors. Oregon Health & Science University does not allow children under age 12 in its departments of adult oncology, adult bone marrow transplant, organ transplant and women's health.

OHSU also has restricted children other than patients from Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

All three Jackson County hospitals are providing more opportunities for visitors to wash their hands and use alcohol disinfectants. Hand sanitizing stations are "just about everywhere" at Ashland Community Hospital, said Erin Coke, the hospital's infection preventionist. Coke said there are no new visitor restrictions at ACH, but staff and patients are using protective masks when conditions warrant.

Masks are used at RVMC any time a patient might be likely to spread respiratory illness, hospital spokesman Grant Walker said.

Patients with influenza-like illnesses accounted for about 10 percent of RVMC's patients on Wednesday, Walker said. Influenza-like illness is defined as a body temperature of at least 100 degrees along with a cough or sore throat.

He said about 40 people per day have been coming to RVMC's emergency department with flu-like symptoms. It's impossible to say how many may actually have the H1N1 virus because hospitals no longer test every likely case. Among people who have been hospitalized for influenza in Oregon, laboratory tests indicate 48 percent had the H1N1 virus, according to the Department of Human Services Web site, www.flu.gov.

Providence recently installed dozens of new hand sanitizing stations near elevators, stairwells and other heavily traveled areas of the hospital. Visitors are being asked to sanitize their hands before entering a patient's room and again when they leave. They're also being asked to cough into their sleeve to minimize the spread of the virus.

"Covering your cough and washing your hands are two of the best ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses and other diseases," said Lori Lind, critical and respiratory care manager at Providence.

Lind encouraged people to avoid touching their eyes or other body openings with their fingers because virus particles can enter the body through the eyes or tear ducts.

"People just need to be really careful," she said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.