By Brenda L. Holmes
State health officials reported this week that the number of deaths in Indiana attributed to influenza is up to 40 this season. Of those 40 people who died, 38 had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or renal disease.
The Hendricks County Health Department reported that less than five influenza-related deaths have occurred in the county. County health official Tammy Brinkman said her office is always trying to educate the public on how to stay healthy.
“We recommend anyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot, unless they have a severe allergy,” Brinkman said. “We also encourage hand washing and covering one’s mouth with a tissue or sleeve. And stay home if you are ill.”
Thirty-three of the victims statewide have been age 65 or older. Only two deaths occurred in people ages 18 or younger.
The hospitals in Hendricks County are doing their best to treat people while keeping the flu from spreading within their facilities.
IU Health West Hospital in Avon introduced a new visitation restriction policy on Jan. 18. The effort was designed to limit visitors to the hospital in order to enhance patient safety.
The policy states that only adults may visit patients, including parents, spouses/significant others, and spiritual counselors. Visitors with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, chills, or muscle aches, are not allowed.
Patients visiting the facility to be treated for flu-like symptoms are asked to wear a surgical or isolation mask. Visitors are asked to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer often.
IU Health West is also asking families to limit the number of relatives and friends accompanying patients into its emergency departments, outpatient surgery waiting rooms and procedure rooms, and primary care and specialist physician offices.
Chris Summers, public relations specialist for IU Health West, said the hospital keeps track of people coming into the facility presenting with flu-like symptoms and those actually being admitted to the hospital.
“Of those coming into the emergency room, 20 percent of individuals were presenting with influenza like illness,” Summers said. “Of that, between 3 and 25 percent, were actually admitted to the hospital.”
“It looks like Jan. 13 was the day where we had our highest numbers come in and we are at half that as of yesterday (Jan. 22),” she said.
Jane Forni, who works in infection prevention for IU Health West, said right now the cases are remaining steady.
“I started tracking cases daily on Jan. 10,” Forni said. “Our census surged up on Jan. 13 when we had 27 percent of our patients coming into the emergency department with influenza-like illness.”
She said they are now on the downside of that spike.
“It did seem to come early this year and it’s not to say we might not have another spike in February,” she said.
Forni said the facility had 100 percent compliance for the mandatory flu vaccine for employees.
“It went very well and we didn’t lose anybody for that,” she said. “For the most part, our employees are keeping healthy. You will always have a very small percentage get sick but we haven’t had any reported to use Employee Occupational Health. Our employees are staying home if they are ill.”
Aimee Ketterer, marketing communications specialist for Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, said this flu season didn’t bring about any extreme measures for the staff there.
“We are treating it no different that we normally would this time of year,” Ketterer said. “We are currently at a heightened awareness and have notified the staff of the influenza outbreak. We offer hand sanitizer and masks at all entrances.”
She said during the flu season there is always a tougher screening process for visitors.
“We are more cautious with people who may appear sick and are very cautious of those people going up to the child birth center,” Ketterer said. “We don’t want people there with the flu, but that is no different than any other flu season.”
She said the hospital is seeing a “good number of cases” and that it has been very difficult to keep enough flu vaccine around.
“We keep vaccine here at the hospital for patients being admitted to the hospital for other things,” she said. “Especially the elderly or kids. We don’t want them to contract the flu as well as dealing with the reason they came to the hospital for.”
Brinkman said many doctors and medical facilities are commonly out of the flu vaccine this time of year.
“Every year you order according to the previous year,” she said. “You start giving out the vaccine in the fall so you run low this time of year. But there is still vaccine available through the Indiana State Health Department. I also called around and there are still some pharmacies that have the vaccine.”