As the number of cases of influenza rises in eastern Iowa, public health officials remind people to protect themselves and others and stay home if they're sick.
Dubuque's two hospitals are taking extra precautions to safeguard their patients.
The visitor entrance at Mercy Medical Center Dubuque has fewer people passing through its doors this week, thanks to posted signs, which say children younger than 14 are prohibited from visiting patients.
Dr. John Viner works at Dubuque Internal Medicine. He's chairman of Dubuque's Bi-Hospital Infection Control Committee, which made the decision to impose visitation restrictions at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital and Mercy Medical Center Dubuque.
"Children often have influenza virus, and during the epidemic, we like children to not visit in the hospitals," Viner said.
More than just children, however, both hospitals are asking anybody with cold or flu symptoms to stay away as well.
"We have to take it seriously," Viner said.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and headaches.
For those, Viner recommends, "rest, chicken soup, acetaminophen, plenty of fluids."
Gail Gates, an infection preventionist at Mercy Medical Center Dubuque, is also on the Bi-Hospital Infection Control Committee. She said the visitation restrictions are in place until further notice.
"We take a look at the percentage of children that are calling in at schools and how many people are visiting our emergency room, how many we have admitted to the hospital with influenza," Gates said. "As that starts to decrease, then we'll make a decision to take the visiting restrictions down."
She said hospitals have imposed restrictions at some point during influenza season in eight of her 10 years at Mercy Medical Center Dubuque.
"We want to limit the visitors because they may be sick when they're coming to see our patients, and our patients are in a compromised fashion while they're in the hospital," Gates said.
Both she and Viner said it's late, but not too late, to get your seasonal flu vaccination. The vaccine takes a few days to kick in, but doctors say you can still protect yourself by getting one, and there is no vaccine shortage supply in Iowa this year.
Additionally, Gates said, "It's important that if you are sick, that you take precautions to cover your cough: not with your hand but with your elbow, because you don't want to (cough) on your hand and then go to touch somebody else."
She also said frequent hand washing is extremely important in stopping the spread of viruses.