As flu cases mount, local hospitals ban children from visiting

Triangle hospitals are telling children not to visit – even if they wear a mask – in-patient rooms and waiting areas during flu season.
Triangle hospitals are telling children not to visit – even if they wear a mask – in-patient rooms and waiting areas during flu season. N&O file photo

You know that flu season is in full swing when local hospitals start turning away the children.

The 2017-18 flu season, which claimed its first two young victims in North Carolina last month, has prompted Triangle hospitals to issue restrictions on children visiting ill relatives and friends.

On Monday, Duke University Health System and UNC Hospitals are upgrading restrictions to keep children out of their hospitals – unless, of course, they’re sick. Duke is barring all kids under age 18 from its three Triangle hospitals and two ambulatory surgery centers. UNC is prohibiting kids under age 12 from visiting in-patient areas and waiting rooms at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and in Hillsborough.

The restrictions are implemented every year when the flu season becomes a serious concern. The flu season lasts from October through May, but typically picks up during the coldest months.

Cameron Wolfe, a Duke professor of infectious diseases, said Duke uses several criteria to determine when it’s time to keep kids out of hospitals: reports of flu-like illnesses in the community, hospital beds getting filled up, a rise in hospital-transmitted infections, and Duke staff coming down with flu-like symptoms.

“None of these are absolutely mathematical, because frankly influenza testing is an imprecise science,” Wolfe said by email. “But certainly looking at the rate of influenza illness, and the increasing trend in those values is very predictive.”

Wake County reported its first flu-related death in the week ending Dec. 30, the last week for which statewide data is available from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

During the same week, North Carolina also saw a spike in total of people admitted to hospitals for influenza and other respiratory illnesses. Nearly 320 people were admitted statewide, about double the totals seen at the beginning of the flu season last fall.

Triangle hospitals began restricting visits in November. WakeMed Health & Hospitals banned children under age 12 from inpatient areas in Raleigh and in Cary. UNC Hospitals implemented a ban on children visiting the newborn critical care center, pediatric intensive care unit and bone marrow transplant unit. UNC Rex Healthcare in Raleigh prohibited kids under 12 from the neonatal intensive care unit. Rex has since expanded the ban to the emergency room, which is seeing a rise in flu cases.

Duke’s ban also limits visits to two adult visitors at a time.

Adult visitors with fevers, coughs or other flu-like symptoms are discouraged from visiting any Triangle hospitals at this time.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski