With 16 flu deaths, NC hospitals tell kids to stay away unless they need medical care

Do your part to stop the spread of flu at home

What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?
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What actions—apart from getting vaccinated and taking medicine—can you take to help slow the spread of illnesses like the flu?

With six new flu deaths in the state in the past two weeks, Triangle hospitals are taking precautions against the spread of the infection.

(This story has been corrected to say that the six deaths were over a two-week period.)

Starting Friday, children aged 11 and younger can no longer visit patients at UNC REX Hospital in Raleigh or at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. The WakeBrook Behavioral Health facility in Raleigh will also be off limits.

Also starting Friday, no child under the age of 12 will be allowed to visit patient areas at WakeMed hospitals. In addition, WakeMed is banning any visitors who have a fever, are vomiting, have diarrhea or other cold or flu-like symptoms from visiting.

WakeMed has had 193 patients test positive for the flu between Nov. 1 and Jan. 6 in the organization’s seven emergency departments in Wake County, according to a statement from the hospital.

Alan Wolf, a spokesman for UNC Health Care, said Thursday that the hospitals are seeing the number of flu cases increasing, and “want to stay ahead of the trend.”

Restrictions are put in place every year, usually when the number of flu cases increases. The flu season runs from October through May, but typically peaks during the coldest months.

Skin contact alone won’t spread the disease; to get you sick, the virus has to enter a bodily cavity with a mucus membrane, typically your mouth, nose or eye.

So far 16 people have died in North Carolina in this flu season, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. In the previous flu season, there were 36 flu-related deaths in the state at this time last year, and 391 total deaths, the most since the state started tracking flu deaths in 2009.

In the last flu season, the vaccine was 40 percent effective overall, but only 24 percent effective against the most common strains of the virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet estimated the effectiveness of flu vaccine this season.

Duke University Health System, with hospitals and urgent care clinics throughout the Triangle, has not implemented visitation restrictions yet. Last year Duke announced restrictions Jan. 5, and in 2017 the restrictions were not put in place until Feb. 9.

Wolf said the new restrictions are not only to protect patients but also to ensure that children don’t pick up germs while visiting family in the hospital. “We love kids but it’s better for them to stay home,” he said.

Anyone, no matter their age, who has a fever, cough, congestion or a sore throat should not visit patients in hospitals.