A new sign at the entrance of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Tuesday warns about the dangers of the rapidly spreading influenza virus. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — In an effort to limit the spread of the flu, Central Maine Healthcare is restricting visitors at all three of its hospitals.

The new, temporary rules “strongly discourage” visitors under 12 years old. The health system requires children who do visit to stay in the patient’s room and limit their visitation time. The health system also asks people of any age not to visit if they have a fever or cough or don’t feel well.

The rules, which will stay in place through the flu season, affect visitors to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital.

“These precautions are not unusual for Central Maine Healthcare during the flu season,” said spokeswoman Kate Carlisle. “Our top priority is to protect our patients and team as much as possible. These sensible precautions can prevent the spread of flu in the hospital.”

The influenza virus is widespread in Maine, with cases reported in every county in the state. Nearly 2,300 people tested positive as of Jan. 18, according to the most recent data available from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. York County and Cumberland counties reported the most cases, with 664 and 358 cases respectively.

In Androscoggin County, 171 people have tested positive for the flu. In Franklin County, 61 people have tested positive, and in Oxford County, 106 have tested positive.

Patients range in age from 1 month to 103 years old, according to the Maine CDC. The average age is 31.

Eight people have died from the flu in Maine.

While CMHC hospitals are restricting young visitors, other area hospitals are not.

St. Mary’s Health System, which runs St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, asks community and staff members to stay home if they’re showing flu-like symptoms. If they do enter the hospital, visitors with flu-like symptoms are strongly encouraged to use a face mask and hand sanitizer provided by the hospital.

Maine Medical Center in Portland and Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway encourage all visitors to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering patient rooms and to stay home if they’re sick. Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington asks all patients and visitors with a cough to wear a mask.

Flu symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, cough, fatigue and weakness.

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