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LOS ANGELES -- Hospitals throughout California and neighboring states have begun restricting visitors to help stop the spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus.

Some hospitals are capping the number of visitors per patient, barring children and asking emergency room visitors to wear masks.

On Monday, Cedars- Sinai Medical Center raised the minimum age for visitors from 12 to 18 and restricted the number of visitors for patients at greatest risk for H1N1, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Those in labor and delivery, or in the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units are among those at greatest risk for the illness.

"This epidemic is different from the typical flu season, and we're having to respond in a different way," Dr. Rekha Murthy, Cedars-Sinai's medical director of hospital epidemiology, told the Times. "It's spreading like wildfire in the community and we need to protect the patients who are most vulnerable."

Recent restrictions include:
  • Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys barred children under age 16 from visiting inpatient units or being left unattended in lobbies, waiting rooms or other common areas. Hospital officials have asked those with flu-like symptoms not to visit, and have limited patients to two visitors at a time.
  • Childrens Hospital Los Angeles has limited patients to two visitors at a time.
  • Stanford Hospital & Clinics has barred visitors under age 16 except in the emergency room, where visitors will be asked to wear masks.
The decision to restrict visitors remains at the discretion of hospitals.

Within 10 days, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center will bar children under age 16 from pediatric, perinatal, neonatal and child life areas unless authorized in advance by the hospital staff, according to spokesman Enrique Rivero. Hospital officials already have started telling would-be visitors who have had the flu not to enter the hospital until 24 hours after their symptoms disappear, and plan to screen visitors at hospital entrances, Rivero told the Times.

Officials from Los Angeles County's three public hospitals -- County-USC, Harbor- UCLA Medical Center and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center -- plan to meet Friday to review their visitor current policies, said spokesman Michael Wilson.