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Flu outbreak felt in Ky. hospitals, workplaces

Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The statewide flu outbreak has become bad enough to prompt a central Kentucky hospital complex to place temporary restrictions on visiting patients, while health care workers brace for the coming weeks when influenza usually hits its peak.

Responding to a flu level considered widespread in the Bluegrass state, University of Kentucky health care officials said Monday that no one under age 18 would be allowed to visit patients at UK Hospital, Kentucky Children's Hospital and UK Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington.

Only two visitors will be allowed in a patient's room at one time, and visitors may be told to wear masks, gloves or gowns.

"We understand how important visitation is, but we also want to make sure that we are not introducing other infection ... to the patient as well, and to our health-care workers," said Kim Blanton, UK HealthCare interim director for infection prevention and control.

Exceptions for compassionate visits will be made on a case-by-case basis, officials said.

The flu surge hit Kentucky sooner than usual and its spread is being felt from health clinics to workplaces.

At UPS' worldwide air hub in Louisville, the work force has been hit by sporadic cases of the flu, said company spokesman Jeff Wafford, but illnesses among the approximately 21,000-person work force haven't slowed the processing of packages.

"People are sick and we've seen people out here and there," he said. "We've seen in it the office and out in the hub as well."

Kentucky's level of flu has been widespread for the past five weeks, which is earlier than usual, said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

"We cannot predict whether that level will increase or wane as we move forward," Bond said.

Flu season typically peaks in late January and early February, health officials said.

State health officials said they are not aware of any shortages of flu vaccines, though it's possible that individual doctors might run out of vaccine. Health officials are recommending that everyone 6 months or older receive a flu shot.

"At this time, providers continue to report high, but not overwhelming, demand at hospitals and doctor's offices," Bond said.

In eastern Kentucky, the number of flu cases has dropped in recent days at Harlan ARH hospital, following a spurt in cases about three weeks ago, spokesman Mark Bell said.

"We're expecting in another week or so to get hit by that second wave," he said.

Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Health officials in northern Kentucky say a man died recently from complications of the flu. State health officials said the victim, who was not identified, suffered from multiple chronic health conditions.

State health officials count only pediatric deaths, and say there have been none so far.