Indiana flu deaths up to 40


The death toll from the flu continues to rise across Indiana, according to a new report released Wednesday. We're also learning new details about the people dying from the flu.

In the last week, 13 people have died from flu-related complications in Indiana. The brings the total flu deaths to 40 for the state. That's the largest number of flu deaths in the state since it started tracking those statistics in 2005. The second deadliest flu season in recent years was in 2009, when the H1N1 flu strain led to 22 deaths in the state.

Shawn Richards, a Respiratory Epidemiologist with the Indiana State Department of Health, says they expect a few more weeks of flu season in Indiana.

"This year we have had 40. Last year we had zero; the year before that we had four and the year before that we had 22. So this a high number of deaths," he said.

"The H3N2 strain that we are seeing is about 90 percent of all the specimens that we have received in our lab, so it does appear to be more virulent and may affect those with underlying medical conditions a little more than others," Richards said.

State health officials say the 14 of the patients who died were vaccinated and ten were not. They don't know the vaccination status for the others. Of the people who have died, the majority had underlying medical conditions like cardiac disease, diabetes, COPD or renal disease.

The majority of deaths (33) occurred in patients 65 or older, with four in the 50-64 group, one between the ages of 25-49 and two people aged 5-18.

"We really need to be taking care of the elderly. Almost all of the cases are those 50 and older and those with underlying medical conditions," Richards said.

Although this year's vaccine offers roughly 60-70 percent protection, health officials it still helps to get the shot. The shot will still reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu.

"I truly believe that it is those 50+ that have the underlying medical conditions that the vaccine - although it's good, it isn't perfect and therefore their immune systems may not be able to fight it off or to develop the antibodies necessary to give them the proper protection," Richards said.

This season's vaccine offers protection against the three most common strains of influenza: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. The H3N2 strain appears to be predominant so far this season.

Flu vaccination is recommended for anyone six months of age or older. It is especially important for those at higher risk of complications related to the flu, to get vaccinated. High risk individuals include pregnant women, young children, people with chronic illnesses and/or compromised immune systems and the elderly.

Symptoms of influenza include: high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, muscle aches and sore throat. Health officials encourage anyone experiencing these symptoms to contact their health care provider.

Marion County update

There have been five deaths in Marion County, three of them in the last week.

For the week of Jan. 13-Jan. 19, Marion County hospitals reported 517 visits for influenza-like illness, or 5.06 percent of all emergency room visits. That's a 28-percent increase from the 403 visits reported the previous week.

The visitor restriction policy put in place last Friday, Jan. 18, at Marion County hospitals remains in effect. The policy will stay in place until Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, along with hospital partners in the Indianapolis Coalition for Public Safety, determine the restrictions are no longer needed.

The Marion County Public Health Department administered 938 free flu shots at clinics last week. The health department continues to offer low-cost flu shots at its district health offices. Adult flu shots are $15, children ages 2-18 are $10, and infants under the age of 2 are free. A list of locations is available by calling the Flu Hotline, 317-221-2121, or going to

Keep track of flu activity here.

Flu information - signs and symptoms, flu shot finder, questions and answers.

Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

Stay home when you are sick. Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. Keep sick children at home. You will help prevent others from catching the illness.

Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Wash your hands often. Washing your hands and the hands of your children often will help protect you from germs.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

It is important for people living in the affected areas to take steps to prevent spreading the virus to others. If people are ill, they should stay at home and limit contact with others, except to seek medical care. Healthy residents living in these areas should take the everyday preventive actions listed above.

People who live in these areas who develop an illness with fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough and runny nose, and possibly other symptoms, such as body aches, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, should contact their health care provider. Their health care provider will determine whether influenza testing is needed.