CHICAGO (CBS) — With the flu reaching epidemic levels, and students headed back to school next week, doctors have been asking parents to make sure kids are protected.

Just two weeks ago, right before winter break, area hospitals saw a rise in pediatric patients with the flu.

“Currently, people should be concerned, because of the numbers of patients that we’ve seen at Lurie Children’s, and that have been seen elsewhere in Chicago over the last month,” said Dr. Larry Kociolek, an infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a flu epidemic, after measuring widespread flu activity in 36 states, and 15 child deaths from the flu so far this season. The total number of deaths attributed to the flu hit 6.8 percent this past week.

Kociolek said flu activity might seem calm now, but “it’s hard to predict what specifically will happen over the next several weeks. Certainly, when children are in a close environment – such as school or daycare – with other children with viral infections, there’s a higher risk of transmission.”

Illinois is one of 22 states which have reported a high level of flu activity – as have neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana.

Kociolek said time will tell if there’s an uptick in cases. Meantime, he advised parents to make sure their children practice good hand hygiene, and are protected with the flu vaccine.