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Hospitals and other sites in Western New York operated by the Catholic Health System are changing the minimum age for visitors to 14, in an effort to reduce the spread of the flu.

The move was announced by the health system last week and is effective immediately.

The goal of the change is to curb the spread of the flu, which has been widespread locally and around the country this winter.

Hospitals and facilities affected include Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo, Kenmore Mercy Hospital, Sisters Hospital and its St. Joseph campus.

Long-term care facilities including Father Baker Manor, McAuley Residence, Mercy Skilled Nursing facility at OLV, St. Catherine Laboure and St. Francis of Williamsville also are affected.

“As has been reported, the flu is widespread this year, and patients who are hospitalized are particularly susceptible, as well as capable of spreading the infection to those who may be more at risk, such as young children,” Dr. Kevin Shiley, physician adviser of Catholic Health Infection Prevention and Control, said in a news release put out by the system.

The minimum visitor age of 14 will remain in effect until the health system decides the threat has passed, hospital officials said.

“We strongly encourage people to get a flu shot, wash their hands frequently, and if they feel ill, to contact their primary care doctor or clinic, rather than seek treatment for routine flu symptoms in the emergency room,” Shiley said.

For more information, see the system’s website at www.chsbuffalo.org/visitors.

The flu struck earlier this year and hospitals and health care settings across the state have dealt with thousands more cases – already – than in a typical year.

“One of the things about this surge right now is that it’s a bit earlier than usual because influenza can persist into April or even May,” Dr. Steven Lana, of Delaware Pediatrics, told The Buffalo News earlier this month.

“We’ve got a long row ahead, potentially.”

email: cvogel@buffnews.com