COSHOCTON -- Coshocton Hospital has taken an important step in protecting patients from the influenza virus by putting visitor restrictions in place.

The restrictions take effect immediately, and include limiting visitors to immediate family members only who are 18 years of age or older. Only children under age 18 who are seeking medical treatment or evaluation should come to the hospital. Anyone with a fever and/or flu-like symptoms should not visit hospital patients.

The hospital visitation restrictions are in place to protect those who are most susceptible to experiencing complications from the flu.

Children are not as likely as adults to exercise preventative measures such as frequent hand-washing, and may carry the flu virus to a patient whose health condition limits his or her ability to fight the effects of the flu.

Since children are also at risk for developing serious complications from the flu, it is best to leave them at home with a caregiver unless they need medical care or evaluation at the hospital or emergency room.

"We have experienced a definite increase in outpatients who have tested positive for influenza," said Kathy Reed, RN, infection control. "Influenza is a serious illness that kills more than 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 more each year in the United States. Limiting potential exposure to the virus helps keep our patients safe from this serious illness and its life-threatening complications."

Reed recommends following these important guidelines to avoid getting the flu:

Get your flu vaccine; it is not too late as the seasonal flu can last into May

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand gel

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue to cough or sneeze, then discard the tissue in a waste basket

Stay at home if you're sick. If symptoms persist, call you physician.

Visitation restrictions are posted at all hospital entrances for your review.

If you have questions about the flu, check the hospital website at www.ccmh.com.

The visitation restrictions will stay in effect through the peak months of the flu season until the high risk of patient exposure to the virus has passed.