Why Do Hospitals Restrict Visitors?

A man visiting at the hospital.

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During cold and flu season, many hospitals find it necessary to restrict their visitors to those who are over a certain age and free of any respiratory illnesses.

Why Is This Necessary?

The restriction of hospital visitors is necessary because even minor colds can cause very serious illnesses in many hospitalized patients. There are many people in the hospital who already have weakened immune systems and cannot risk being exposed to respiratory illnesses.

During cold and flu season, many hospitals restrict all visitors who have any type of active respiratory infection and any young child (typically those under the age of 12) regardless of their health status. This may seem unfair if you just want to go visit someone you care about, but the policies are in place to protect everyone that is being treated at that health care facility, not just the person you know. 

Why Restrict Young Children?

Young children are often restricted from visiting hospitals during cold and flu season because they are more likely to be carrying viral or other contagious illnesses even if they aren't showing any active symptoms. Children are exposed to a lot of germs — especially those that are in school and daycare. Even if they don't get sick from those germs they can pass them on to others, which can be very serious for patients that are hospitalized.

Why Restrict Sick Visitors?

It may seem silly not to let sick people into a hospital, but visitors who are sick with things like a cold or respiratory infection can spread those germs to hospitalized patients, which may complicate or extend the illnesses they are hospitalized for.

What if the Person I'm Visiting Isn't Sick?

One of the biggest challenges to policies restricting hospital visitors comes when you want to visit a person in the hospital who isn't sick. Women who have just given birth and those who have had surgery often get lots of visitors. It can be difficult to stay away from the hospital if you want to visit a loved one and you just have a cold. But you have to remember that you have to avoid spreading your germs to everyone in the hospital, not just the person you wish to visit.

How Do I Know if the Hospital Has Visitor Restrictions?

Many hospitals will post their visitation policies on their websites. The person you wish to visit (or their family members) should also have been informed of the visitation policy when they were admitted to the hospital. If you still aren't sure, call the main hospital number and ask what policy is currently in place before you go visit. And remember, even if the hospital doesn't have any restrictions on sick visitors, it is best to be mindful of others and not go to the hospital if you have an illness that could be contagious.

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