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Swine flu fears limit holiday visits to sick kids

Swine flu is not just a pandemic, it's a party-pooping grinch.

Several area hospitals said they are limiting visits from Santa and holiday parties because of concerns about spreading the H1N1 virus, especially to younger patients, who are most vulnerable to the swine flu.

Spokesman Terry Lynam said Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park has had fewer holiday parties than usual and donated gifts are being distributed "by staff as opposed to Santa."

Lynam said other hospitals in the North Shore-LIJ Health System are continuing to hold holiday parties and letting Santa or his elves give out presents.

"We're being more strict with Schneider because children are more vulnerable to H1N1," he said. "Many of those in Schneider are very sick and very vulnerable to infection. We're trying to make a happy holiday by reducing the spread of infection."

It's the same at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola. In previous years carolers would sing merry tunes up and down the halls of its pediatric center. Not this year, Winthrop spokesman John Broder said.

Gifts are being dropped off in the lobby and distributed by the staff, he said.

"We're not letting them interact with the patients," Broder said. "Everyone has been terrific about it. They understand."

Stony Brook University Medical Center is limiting Santa's workers to four per visit, and Santa cannot visit an isolation room, according to Ronni Schultz, associate director of nursing for pediatrics. A "hospital elf" - a staff member or child life specialist - delivers gifts to children in isolation, she said. And children under 18 are not allowed to visit "without special dispensation."

At Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in Patchogue and Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, Santa is welcome, but young visitors - who could be carriers of the flu - are being asked to stay home.

"The number of visits from Santa remain the same for this year, along with continued annual visits from sports teams such as the LI Islanders and Ducks," said Christine Hendriks, a spokeswoman for Good Samaritan.

Spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow is "still allowing groups to bring toys, still holding holiday parties for pediatric patients, but following necessary precautions."

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