As the reports of influenza grip central Indiana, many local hospitals have implemented visitor restrictions to curb the spread of the disease.
The restrictions come after the Indiana Health Department announced that 11 people had died as a result of influenza this season, with one death being in Marion County. Only a week ago, the reported number of deaths was three.
The Indiana University Health Hospital System is taking precautions at its Indianapolis hospitals of IU Health North, IU Health West, IU Health Methodist Hospital, IU Health Saxony, IU Health University Hospital, IU Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center, and Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
At IU Heath West, the visitor restrictions mean:
• No visitors under the age of 18 may visit patients (unless special arrangements have been made);
• Immediate family members, including parents, spouses/significant others, and spiritual counselors may visit hospitalized patients;
• Individuals with flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, chills or muscle aches should stay home, and not visit patients in the hospital; Sometimes, symptoms such as diarrhea and nausea occur in children. Symptoms usually start about one to four days after being exposed, and last two to seven days;
• Patients coming to see their doctor, or for outpatient testing, who have flu-like symptoms, should request a protective mask to wear; and
• Visitors and outpatients should wash hands or use hand sanitizer before entering the building.
The temporary policy is effective Jan. 22.
Officials want to remind the public that the best way to combat the flu is to get a vaccine.
“We strongly recommend that everyone ages 6 months and older get their annual flu vaccine,” Jane Forni, manager of infection prevention at Indiana University Health West Hospital, said. “Physician offices and pharmacies began providing flu shots in September. Since it takes about two weeks for your body to build up its immune response to the flu, the sooner you get your flu shot the better. But it’s not too late.”
Forni added that there have been an increase of flu cases in Hendricks and surrounding counties.
“By restricting visitors by age and number, we hope to decrease the risk of transmission,” she said. “One thing most people don’t realize is that kids — really anyone under the age of 18 — can transmit influenza for several days before ever showing any symptoms.”
Chris Summers, public relations specialist for IU Health West, said the restrictions are just another way the hospital combats the flu.
“Restricting visitors is just one layer in our flu defense here at IU Health West,” Summers said. “We require mandatory flu vaccines for all of our employees as well as meticulous hand hygiene. Patients and visitors are educated on hand hygiene as well. And we provide masks to any patient or visitor showing flu-like symptoms.”
Director of retail pharmacy operations at IU Health West Meribeth Yeary said most insurance companies are covering 100 percent of flu shots.
According to information released by IU Health West, masks are available at the hospital’s Welcome Desk and the registration area for patients who need them. The hospital is also asking families to limit the number of relatives and friends accompanying patients to the emergency room, outpatient surgery waiting rooms, and procedure areas, as well as primary care and specialist physician offices.
Hospital officials at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, Riley Hospital for Children, and St. Vincent Health have instituted similar restrictions.
State health officials are also urging Hoosiers to combat the sickness by getting a flu vaccine.
“Hoosiers cannot become complacent when it comes to the flu,” State Health Commissioner William VanNess, M.D., said in a press release. “I strongly recommend all Hoosiers get vaccinated if you haven’t done so yet. Flu is very unpredictable.”
Practicing the “Three Cs” can also help prevent the spread of flu and other infectious diseases.
• Clean: Properly wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water;
• Cover: Cover your cough and sneeze with your arm or a disposable tissue; and
• Contain: Stay home from school/work when you are sick to keep your germs from spreading.
Anyone experiencing symptoms such as a fever of 100 degrees or higher, headache, fatigue, cough, muscle aches, and a sore throat is asked to contact their health care provider.