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H1N1 threat forces hospitals to restrict visitors

Altru Health System began restricting visitors Monday to its hospital and rehabilitation center in order to decrease the spread of the flu, both seasonal and H1N1.

Altru Health System began restricting visitors Monday to its hospital and rehabilitation center in order to decrease the spread of the flu, both seasonal and H1N1.

Altru said Monday that visitors will be restricted to immediate family members, and children younger than 18 should be accompanied by an adult family member. Visitors should wear a mask at all times and wash their hands before and after they visit, officials said.

Masks were being worn Monday afternoon by patients in the emergency room, waiting room, at the Main Clinic and at the Family Medicine Center, site of a walk-in clinic for healthy patients with flu-like symptoms.

Jim VanLooy, chief medical executive at Altru, said the clinic saw 71 patients Monday.

"There were 30 in the first couple hours," VanLooy said. "So, we're getting patients through fairly rapidly."


Over the weekend, VanLooy said about 80 or 90 patients were treated for flu-like symptoms in Altru Urgent Care.

"That doesn't count the number of patients we're counseling over the phone," he said.

Fargo's two MeritCare hospitals issued similar restrictions, including limiting patients entering its downtown emergency center to having only one person with them.

Some hospitals in the Twin Cities are shortening visitor hours. Officials at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., said nurses are fielding 50,000 calls about the flu a month, double the normal number.

Still waiting

The restrictions take effect while health care providers continue to wait for shipments of swine flu vaccine. The North Dakota Health Department expects 12,300 doses to arrive this week. Pregnant women, children ages 6 months through 18 years and health care workers will be given priority.

Jane Croeker at UND Student Health said it has received 10 doses of the H1NI vaccine to date. She said it was used to vaccinate health care workers. The timeline for when the next shipment arrives is not clear.

"We originally talked about a community clinic similar to what we have for seasonal flu," Croeker said. "Once we get 300 to 500 doses, we'll vaccinate students as soon as possible. We'll roll that out within the clinic once we get a sufficient supply."


The North Dakota Health Department is reporting 563 cases of the flu to date, with 110 confirmed as swine flu.

Epidemiologist Kirby Kruger said the department has asked businesses and schools to relax requirements for doctor's notes for those who are absent in order to ease the burdens on health care providers.

"That was the policy up until last week," said Jody Thompson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning with Grand Forks Public Schools. "We waived the requirement with the H1NI epidemic."

North of the border

Canada's health minister said Monday that 2 million doses of swine flu vaccine have been shipped to provinces and territories. The vaccine is undergoing regulatory approval before the federal government gives the green light to start the H1N1 flu shots.

A Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll of 1,000 Canadians said almost two of every three are foregoing handshakes and hugs out of fear of spreading the swine flu virus. Across the world, people have been urged to cut down contact with others and bump elbows rather than shake hands.

Manitoba's new premier, Greg Selinger, said anyone in the province that wants a swine flu shot will have access to one.

"There's been at least $50 million (Canadian) -- it'll probably go higher -- spent on preparations," Selinger said. "All the materials, all the staffing, all of those things are well in hand at this stage of the game."


Selinger was sworn in Monday as the successor to Gary Doer, who is now Canada's ambassador to the United States.

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1262; (800) 477-6572, ext. 262; or send e-mail to jjohnson2@gfherald.com . The Associated Press and Canadian Press contributed to this article.

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