Rise in flu cases causes Children's Hospital to restrict visitation

Karen Bouffard and George Hunter
The Detroit News
Starting Friday, Children’s Hospital of Michigan will implement new patient visitation guidelines in what officials say is an effort to stave off an influenza epidemic.

Starting Friday, Children’s Hospital of Michigan will implement new patient visitation guidelines in what officials say is an effort to stave off an influenza epidemic.

A rise of confirmed flu cases in Metro Detroit has caused hospital officials to limit visitation in inpatient and observation units to only parents and legal guardians and guests age 13 years and older.

The state health department Thursday confirmed there's been an uptick of flu cases in southeast Michigan. It's impossible to know exactly how many because health care providers aren't required to report flu to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

"Flu activity is currently at the local level, which means outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illness cases and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in a single region of the state. That appears to be the southeast part of the state," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin said. 

"We are starting to see a slight increase in individuals seeking treatment for the flu and flu-like illnesses. The cases that have been confirmed as the flu through lab tests are H3 and H1N1, which are both classified as influenza A," she said.

Temporary guidelines will remain in effect at Children's while there’s a high volume of seasonal flu, a hospital press release said. 
“We can never be too safe when it comes to flu season,” Dr. Rudy Valentini, chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, said in the release. “We’re doing absolutely everything we can to prevent the spread of influenza and to ensure the safety of our patients. 

“We have a mandatory flu vaccination policy for our physicians and staff to reduce the transmission of infection to our patients, while at the same time keeping them healthy to enable them to continue  providing top-notch care to our patients in need,” Valentini said.

Educational posters and hand sanitizer stations will be located throughout the hospital to protect patients and their families, the release said.

St. John Hospital and Medical Center and other Metro Detroit hospitals in the Ascension Michigan health system have not yet seen a need this year for extra precautions. 

"Ascension hospitals in southeast Michigan are not seeing large numbers of flu cases at this point," said Brian Taylor, spokesman for Ascension Michigan. "While we do not have any restrictions in place related to the flu, we do urge people who are experiencing cold and flu-like symptoms to postpone visiting a patient in the hospital until they are symptom-free."

Beaumont Health hospitals haven't seen much flu yet, but they've noticed an increase in RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, said Dr. Rama Thyagarajan, an infectious diseases doctor with the health system. 

"Presently, there are no visitor restrictions or precautions with the exception of our NICUs (neonatal intensive care units)," Thyagarajan said Thursday. "If prospective NICU visitors are experiencing any flu or cold symptoms they are asked to postpone their visit.

"The NICU precautions are standard during the flu season."

Sutfin, from the state health department, said flu activity appears to be at about the same level as last year at this time.

"We are urging Michiganders to get their flu shot if they haven’t yet," Sutfin said. "Despite the fact numerous influenza hospitalizations and deaths are reported annually, last year only 39.5 percent of Michiganders reported receiving a flu shot, below the national rate of 41.7 percent."

Children younger than 5 years old, people with certain chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and those over 65 years old are most vulnerable to the flu virus, according to health officials. 

"The flu vaccine is the best defense available against the flu and although it may not prevent someone from getting the flu, it will lessen the severity of the symptoms," Sutfin said.

In Michigan, two children died last year from flu-related complications. No pediatric flu deaths have been reported this year. 

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year’s flu season was estimated to be the deadliest since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. More than 79,000 deaths were attributed to the flu that year, 185 of which were children.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN