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Child care centers adding precautions as pediatric flu cases surge

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MADISON (WKOW) -- As another day winds down at the Journey Together daycare center on Verona Road, Mandi Olivares squirts soapy water on each toy in the baby room. Amid a nationwide surge in influenza cases, particularly in children, Olivares said Monday she cannot take any chances.

"We had a case of influenza B through our center and we just constantly sanitized," Olivares said. "Before the children got here, then we sanitized during naptime, then we sanitized as the children are leaving."

Olivares said she also fills a tub with detergent and, donning a mask and gloves, will wash and rinse toys in the daycare center.

Dr. Joseph McBride, an assistant professor at the UW Division of Infectious Diseases, said such precautions are far from an overreaction.

"If you look at overall (influenza) case amounts, it's about the highest we've had in the last ten years since that H1N1 epidemic we had around 2009, 2010," McBride said.

UW Health said as of Sunday night, it had filed 821 pediatric flu cases. Through that same date in 2019, UW Health handled 76 child flu cases. McBride said one of the driving factors in the surge is that we are currently experiencing a one-two punch.

"Generally, influenza B happens at the end of the season but this year, we had influenza B really early in the season and our influenza A numbers are just starting to rise right now," McBride said. "So we had an early influenza B and now we're having influenza A hit us as a combination of the two."

SSM Health's Madison office said Monday that last week alone it had 26 total hospitalization because of the flu. SSM's Dean Medical Group, a collection of 20 clinics in southern Wisconsin, reported 1,184 positive influenza cases in 2020. Through the same date in 2019, SSM clinics in this region reported 113 positive cases.

Olivares said her daycare center is trying to avoid a second case any way possible. That includes adopting a policy that any child who goes home sick, or whose parents call them out sick, cannot come back until they have a doctor's note clearing them

"We suggest that parents just keep their children home and recover," Olivares said. "Your job needs to understand your children come first."

Wisconsin has had three child flu deaths so far this season. The CDC says influenza is responsible for the deaths of 105 children nationwide - the second-highest number on record dating back to 2004.

McBride said the best means of risk reduction is still getting the seasonal flu vaccine.

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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