Baptist Hospitals Ban All Non-Family Visitors as Safeguard; Because Swine Flu Keeps Spreading, They Are Ramping Up Efforts

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY COX

At a hospital run by Baptist Health, you can't visit a sick friend unless you're family. Only one person at a time can visit a Duval County jail inmate. And it seems you can't go anywhere without running into a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Welcome to Northeast Florida in the age of swine flu.

Businesses, government offices and medical centers are ratcheting up their prevention efforts as the resurgent virus sweeps the First Coast. Those efforts are particularly important because the swine flu vaccine won't be available for at least a week - and even then only for those most at risk of getting ill, such as pregnant women and health care workers.

The virus, known technically as H1N1, quickly circled the world after it was first reported in April. After a relatively quiet summer, cases ramped up with the start of the school year.

Duval and Baker counties were experiencing "widespread" outbreaks as of the week ending Sept. 22, according to a Florida Department of Health tracking Web site. Though the swine flu has caused 10 deaths on the First Coast, the vast majority of the cases have been mild.

Still, "we are seeing people in emergency rooms because they think they need to go there when they really need to stay home and treat themselves," said Duval County Health Department spokesman Charles Griggs.

Because of the mounting illness, most local hospitals have enacted strict patient-visitation guidelines. Most have banned visitors who are 5 years old or younger as well as people with flu-like symptoms to stay away. …