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“We apologize for the inconvenience,” said a news release from Beaumont Health System, which operates eight major hospitals in southeast Michigan.

“All Beaumont Health hospitals are experiencing high volumes of patients with respiratory viral illnesses, predominantly influenza,” the release said.

“For the safety of our patients and staff, visitation by children under 13 years of age is limited to extraordinary circumstances, such as severe illness of a parent or sibling, or end-of-life situation.”

Even if children are not obviously sick, they shouldn’t visit a hospital because they could be carriers of the influenza virus, said Dr. Christopher Carpenter, section head of infectious diseases at Royal Oak-Beaumont Hospital.

“You’re coming into a place where people are already ill, and they could end up in worse shape if they also get the flu,” Carpenter said. Children easily pass around the flu and other viruses at day-care centers and schools, causing kids to be a key “vector” for spreading the germs, he said.

A state health official said other hospitals were likely to follow suit. At metro Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System, “we have one visitor restriction in place right now” — children 12 and under are forbidden to enter the intensive care unit for newborns, said Brenda Craig, media relations director for the Ford system, which operates six major hospitals in Michigan.

Michigan is one of 46 states with widespread infestations of influenza, although the state remains one notch down from being in the nation’s highest prevalence category, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, chills and fatigue; but a few patients may suffer vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC.

Patients with especially severe cases have been crowding emergency rooms almost nationwide — everywhere but Hawaii and Washington, D.C. — sometimes showing up with high fevers after becoming dehydrated by failing to consume enough liquids, according to the CDC’s website. In a word, the site says, people with a serious case of influenza “just feel miserable.”

At the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in Lansing, public heath experts are watching this year’s flu season with extra concern, a spokeswoman said.

“People are going back to work and back to school after the holidays, and they’re spreading these germs,” said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the department. This year’s main strain of influenza is called A(H3N2), “and it is one of the more severe forms,” Sutfin said.

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