Protecting yourself against the worst flu season in a decade

Flu-related deaths
Explaining the nasty flu season
Difficult flu season

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Flu-related deaths in Indiana have gone up yet again.

Last week, we reported there had been nine flu-related deaths in the state — up from two reported the week before. Now there are a total of 25, which will be the total for the 2017 flu season.

Indiana only had a total of two flu-related deaths in 2016.

According to the Indiana Department of Health most of the deaths happened with individuals older than 65. The other nine flu-related deaths happened with people between the ages of 5 and 64.

Flu is spread when infected people cough or sneeze nearby or when people touch surfaces or objects contaminated with those infectious respiratory droplets. People can also become infected by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with influenza viruses and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.

WTHR's Carlos Diaz met with Dr. Cole Beeler and registered nurse Denise Kerley with IU Health.

At Methodist Hospital, there was a sharp increase the last two weeks of December, but there first week of January saw a decline. But flu cases are still on the rise around the state.

Beeler said this is the worst flu season in 10 years, and he expects to see more cases in the next few weeks, as we have yet to see a peak. Beeler said one of the ways he can predict how serious the flu season will be is by looking to Australia.

"They have an opposite flu season as ours, and there's sometimes when we get a little bit of a warning as what the flu season's going to look like because we share similar vaccines." Beeler said.

Beeler said this year, Australia's vaccine was only 10 percent effective, so we might expect the same results. Still, Beeler says that's 10 percent more effective than nothing if you don't get a flu vaccine.

To try to curb the spreading of the virus, Kerley says Methodist staff has asked for no visitors younger than 18.

As for how to avoid germs, Beeler says a big culprit is your cell phone.

"It's not something that gets washed everyday. You take it everywhere with you, including the bathroom," said Beeler. In addition, it's always in close proximity to your hands or face during use.

The Health Department says it's important to remember to wash hands thoroughly after coughing or sneezing, avoid contact with people who are sick, and always cough or sneeze into one's elbow or upper arm.

If you do start feeling flu-like symptoms, Beeler suggests contacting your physician as soon as possible, because Tamiflu, an antiviral drug to treat the flu may be an option for you. But Beeler said it only has benefits within 48 hours, so you'll need to act quickly.

To learn more about influenza or to view the state's weekly health report, visit the health department's website.