Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Flu and Flu-Related Visitor Restrictions

What is the flu?

The flu, also known as influenza, is a highly contagious viral infection that mainly affects the upper respiratory system. Symptoms of the flu may include high fever, muscle aches, headache, cough and sore throat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu affects between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population each year. While most people recover from the flu without medical care, more than 200,000 people annually are hospitalized with flu-related complications, and thousands die.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is easily transmitted from person to person through droplets and small particles produced when infected people cough and sneeze. A person might also contract the flu by touching their mouth, eyes or nose after touching an object or surface with flu virus on it. Someone who has the flu can spread their illness to other people up to two days before they even have symptoms of being sick. Because it is spread so easily, people with mild cases of the flu should stay home and avoid contact with others, except to seek medical care.

How can I reduce my risk?

The most effective way to avoid flu infection is to get a flu vaccine every year. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive a flu vaccine each year.

Vaccination not only protects against infection but helps prevent the spread of the flu to individuals at highest risk of serious complications, including young children, older adults and those who have chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems.

Frequent and thorough hand-washing and hand hygiene with an alcohol-based hand rub are other highly effective ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and help prevent the spread of flu and other infections. The CDC recommends a five-step process for hand washing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry.

What do we do at Duke Health to protect our patients from the flu?

We require that our health care personnel receive the flu vaccine each year. Hand hygiene before and after each patient contact is a priority at our hospitals and clinics every day of the year. It is emphasized during flu season to help reduce the spread of the flu virus and infections.

Additionally, we monitor local respiratory infection data and enact visitor restrictions for anyone younger than 12 years old when there are high numbers of circulating respiratory infections in the community.

Before visiting a patient or accompanying a patient to a clinic with children under 12 years old during flu season, please visit this page or call our Patient Information Center at 919-684-2410 to see if visitation restrictions are in place.

Why are children under the age of 12 unable to come to a Duke Health hospital or accompany a patient to the clinic certain times of the year?

  • Children are sick more frequently than adults and children with respiratory viruses are unable to effectively contain their secretions and thus prevent the spread of germs.
  • Almost half of children with viral respiratory infections do not show any symptoms but are able to spread the infection.

When should I not visit a Duke Health hospital or clinic?

You should not visit if you have a fever, an active cough, a runny nose with nasal congestion or a sore throat unless you are coming to receive medical care.

When flu-related visitor restrictions are enacted, children younger than 12 years old are prohibited from all inpatient and outpatient areas at Duke Health hospitals and clinics. This includes inpatient and outpatient waiting rooms, Emergency Department waiting rooms, as well as surgical area waiting rooms.

We understand that visitor restrictions present challenges for families and can be difficult for children who have a loved one in the hospital. However, it is important for the safety of all our patients that children under 12 years old not visit in person during these periods. Please encourage children who wish to visit to write letters or stay connected through Skype or FaceTime.

Our family is preparing for the death of a family member and would like our child (under the age of 12) to visit this individual in the hospital to say goodbye; can exceptions be made?

We are sorry to hear about your loved one. We are working with patients and their families to ensure the final stages of a patient’s life are treated with respect and sensitivity. We will help you make arrangements for a child 12 years and under to visit a family member in the hospital for the last time. However, if your child has flu like symptoms we may need to make alternate accommodations to protect the health and safety of our patients, their loved ones and staff.

My family/significant other just had a baby and were told our kids would be able to visit the baby.

We are sorry, but we will not be able to allow children under 12 years old to visit while flu-related visitor restrictions are in effect. Our first priority is for the safety of your family/significant other, the new baby and all of our patients, their loved ones and our staff. Pregnant women and babies are at high risk for complications from the flu.