Flu outbreak prompts Marion County hospital visit restrictions

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Local health officials announced restrictions Wednesday for hospital visits due to the flu outbreak.

No visitors to hospitals will be allowed in if they have any flu-like illness, fever or cough. No visitors under 18 will be allowed unless special arrangements are made. No visitors will be allowed beyond the patient's immediate family, partner or significant other.

The announcement comes in response to the rising number of patient visits to local emergency rooms for treatment of flu-like illnesses. Last week, there were 403 ER visits for flu-like illness, a 69-percent increase from the previous week.

The restrictions will last until further notice. The Health Department says it could be in effect through February; it will depend on the statistics.

The Health Department is also asking schools to report absentee numbers daily, and it will look into the possibility of shutting down schools if the number of illnesses gets high enough.

John Althardt of Indianapolis Public Schools says the district hasn't seen any alarming absenteeism numbers. He says there have been pockets of illness, but nothing too concerning. He credits the schools for driving home the message of children washing their hands and removing sick kids from the classroom and sending them home.

Meantime, health officials say the state's ongoing flu outbreak has claimed 27 lives, with 17 of those deaths reported during the past week.

Wednesday's flu update from the State Department of Health says 20 of the people who have died in Indiana had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease. Two of the state's flu fatalities were under age 18.

The state health department says nine of the 27 people who have died in Indiana from flu-related causes had received flu vaccine shots.

The agency says it sent a newsletter to Indiana's long-term care facilities last week with suggestions on steps to decrease the spread of the flu and reminding them to offer staff and residents the flu vaccine.

While no shortages of flu vaccine are being reported, it may be difficult to find the vaccine because of high demand.

Click here to find a flu shot location near you.

The 2012-13 vaccine offers 70-percent protection against the three most common strains of influenza: H3N2, H1N1, and Influenza B. The H3N2 strain appears to be predominant thus far in the 2012/13 flu season.

It's recommended that anyone six months of age or older get the shot, especially those at higher risk of complications. High risk individuals include pregnant women, young children, people with chronic illnesses and/or compromised immune systems and the elderly.

Some other tips to help protect against the spread of influenza include:

· Clean. Properly wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water.

· Cover. Cover your cough and sneeze with your arm or a disposable tissue.

· Contain. Stay home from school/work when you are sick to keep your germs from spreading.

Health officials advise to contact your health care provider if you experience the following influenza symptoms, whether or not you have been vaccinated:

· Fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater
· Headache
· Fatigue
· Cough
· Muscle aches
· Sore throat

See the latest reports here.

Flu shot clinics this week

The Visiting Nurse Service at St. Francis is offering two flu shot clinics this week.

The clinics will be held on Wednesday and Thursday (Jan. 16-17) from 3-7 p.m. at the Visiting Nurse Service at St. Francis Central Office at 4701 N. Keystone Avenue.

The clinics will offer vaccinations to children six months of age and older. There will be a limited supply of Thimerosal Free vaccine available.

Flu shots will cost $35, a half-dose flu shot (for children 6-35 months old) will cost $30. The Thimerosal Free vaccine will cost $40 and pneumonia vaccinations will cost $70.

The Visiting Nurse Service at St. Francis accepts cash, check, certain Medicare plans and Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield. No appointment or prescription is necessary for the clinics.