WASILLA --- Mat-Su Regional Medical Center is restricting visitors to guard against the spread of the H1N1 virus at the hospital.
Mat-Su Regional on Thursday announced that, effective immediately, visitors under age 12 are not allowed because of the prevalence of the virus among children. People with a cough, fever, sore throat and/or a respiratory illness are also asked not to visit to help reduce the risk of infection.
Children can stay in the hospital lobby, if an adult is present, hospital officials said.
The sudden policy change doesn't reflect a sudden spike in H1N1 cases in the Mat-Su, said Liz Carryer, infection control director.
Actually, the number of Mat-Su cases is down compared with a month ago, Carryer said, when traffic at the hospital's emergency room and urgent care center in Wasilla jumped by about 20 percent.
Rather, Thursday's announcement came after the new policy was decided at a quarterly meeting of the hospital's infection-control committee.
Mat-Su Regional's new visitor policy appears to be more restrictive than many in the state, though Fairbanks Memorial Hospital has a similar policy: no children 12 and under in patient-care areas.
Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage said it has no restrictions on visitors, as did Central Peninsula Hospital in Kenai.
Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage is screening visitors to maternity and pediatric areas but has no hospital-wide restrictions, spokesman John Hogue said.
H1N1 is the most prevalent flu virus around Alaska right now.
The visitor policy at Mat-Su Regional will remain in effect either until state health officials declare a statewide decrease in the number of H1N1 cases or until the Mat-Su has a "good number" of mass immunizations with the H1N1 vaccine, Carryer said.
Right now, vaccines are still limited to high-risk populations including pregnant women, juveniles, people who work with infants and adults with medical problems that could put them at a higher risk of flu complications.
The Mat-Su Borough is planning some mass immunization clinics in early December, Carryer said.
The restrictions could remain in place until the end of flu season next spring, she said.
Find Zaz Hollander online at adn.com/contact/zhollander or call 907-352-6711.