MILWAUKEE -- Since Feb. 8, kids under the age of 12 have not been allowed to visit Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. It's a step officials say they’ve only taken once before.
“The only time we’ve ever had visitor restrictions was back during the H1N1 season," said Dr. Lyn Ranta, a pediatrician. "So this is the only other time we felt that it was really necessary to take that step.”
The decision came during an especially strong flu season, with rates of the virus approaching levels we haven’t seen in almost a decade. Doctors were worried about young children carrying the disease into the hospital without even knowing it.
“They aren’t really good at articulating those early symptoms that may mean that they’re contagious," Ranta said.
The Centers for Disease Control as of Monday, Feb. 12 reported 63 influenza-associated deaths in children around the country since October, though thankfully none in Wisconsin. Dr. Ranta said more than 500 people came to the emergency room in January with flu-like symptoms, though only a handful needed to be hospitalized.
“We’ve had upwards of a dozen in-house," said Ranta Monday. "Currently we have less than a half-dozen this week, from our report this morning.”
A recent map from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows high levels of the virus throughout most of the state, though a yellow patch in southeast Wisconsin could mean the worst is yet to come for this area.
“The southeast corner is still only in yellow," Ranta said, noting we haven't hit the peak yet. "So we may still see that peak red time coming in the next couple weeks where we actually have more influenza rather than less.”
To that end, the hospital plans to keep the visitor restrictions in place for at least another month, if not longer, as patients and doctors try to weather a particularly contagious storm.
Dr. Ranta added that it’s still not too late to get a flu shot, and even though this year’s vaccine has not been as effective as hoped, it still can help prevent serious disease and hospitalization.