Until further notice, Northeast Georgia Medical Center has banned children ages 15 years and younger from visiting inpatient units on both the main and Lanier Park campuses.
It’s a precautionary measure the hospital takes every year during flu season. Katie Dubnik, spokeswoman for the medical center, said the policy goes into effect when the number of influenza cases seen among inpatients and emergency room patients goes above about 20.
"For most of this winter, we were only seeing one to five cases per week," she said. "Two weeks ago, that increased to six to 10 cases. Then last week, it jumped up to about 40."
The hospital restricts visits from children because they are more likely to spread infectious respiratory illnesses. Though the flu may only cause temporary misery in an otherwise healthy person, it can be life-threatening to elderly patients and those weakened by disease.
"You don’t want to add further complications to patients who are already seriously ill," Dubnik said. "We have cancer patients, for example, who have compromised immune systems."
The only exception to the ban on young visitors is the obstetrics unit, where healthy siblings of newborns will be allowed to visit their mothers.
The restrictions will be lifted sometime in the spring, Dubnik said, noting that the flu season seemed to arrive a bit late this year.
"Normally it’s around Christmas time that we reach the threshold (to trigger the ban)," she said.
Taka Wiley, spokeswoman for the Georgia Division of Public Health, said flu season appears to be reaching its peak now.
"Flu activity has increased in Georgia during the last two weeks, especially in metro Atlanta," she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not keep track of individual flu cases, but uses a variety of monitoring programs to estimate how much the flu virus is circulating in a given area.
The CDC currently classifies flu activity in Georgia as "regional," upgraded from "local" but not yet "widespread."
Dave Palmer, spokesman for District 2 Public Health in Gainesville, said it’s not too late to get a flu shot.
"It takes about two weeks to build up immunity," he said. "But the flu season can run all the way to May."
Flu shots are still available at the Hall County Health Department for $25.