Hospital sees increase in flu cases


The flu has worsened in Jackson County since Schneck Medical Center imposed visitor restrictions more than a month ago.

Around 500 patients have tested positive for influenza and been treated in the emergency room, said Stacy East, infection preventionist at the Seymour hospital.

“We are seeing more than double the amount of positive influenza patients than we have seen the last two years,” she said. “We have seen a steady increase over the last several weeks. Our increase has been seen in our clinics, our emergency department and in our hospital.”

Restrictions were imposed shortly after the first of the year when the hospital had treated approximately 75 flu cases.

The restrictions require visitors to be 18 years or older and limit the number of visitors to a patient’s room to three at a time. Visits are limited to family members and significant others. People that have flu-like symptoms are asked to refrain from visiting the hospital.

Other hospitals in Indiana have taken similar measures as flu activity increases across the state and country.

So far, there have been no deaths reported in Jackson County directly related to the flu, Coroner Mike Bobb said.

State health officials reported last week that the number of flu-related deaths in Indiana reached 136, up from 107 deaths the previous week.

The Indiana State Department of Health reported of those deaths, 102 involved people age 65 or older and 23 involved those in the 50 to 64 age group. Eight deaths have occurred in the 25 to 49 age group and three in the 5 to 24 age group.

A 7-year-old girl in Bartholomew County died last week and tested positive for influenza B and scarlet fever at the time of her death. Officials are waiting on results of a toxicology report.

The rise in flu cases comes about a month after Schneck Medical Center imposed restrictions on visitations because of the flu.

Lin Montgomery, public health educator at the Jackson County Health Department, said the flu is not a disease that can be accurately tracked, and health departments are not required to log reports on the disease.

Symptoms of the flu include fever of more than 100 degrees, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, runny nose, chills, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea.

Montgomery said the busiest time of year for the flu is between November and April.

“Traditionally, February is the time for it to start to slack off, but since this is a new strain and it’s acting differently, we don’t know if we’re there,” she said.

Each year, the virus morphs, and officials are given the task of predicting the strain that will follow the next season, she said.

“It changes within itself,” she said, adding the vaccine and research are prepared a year prior and the virus can be different from the one for which they have prepared.

“During that six-month period (when preparations are done), we may not be dealing with the same flu strain we initially thought we’d be, and that is what has happened this year,” she said.

In general terms, Montgomery said the vaccine does help with immunization against the virus, and people are still encouraged to get vaccinated.

“It’s not going to keep you from getting the flu,” she said. “A lot of people think they will get (the shot) and won’t get it at all, but all it will do is lessen the severity of the symptoms.”

If local residents get the flu, there are limited treatment options. One is to get a prescription for Tamiflu, an antiviral medication used to treat the flu, but patients must begin doses within 48 hours of the onset of the flu.

“If you have the symptoms, call your physician. Don’t go there, call your physician and see if they want to see you or they can perhaps make a prescription over the phone,” Montgomery said.

She said it is important for people who think they have the flu to remain at home.

“What we need people to do is not go out in public and stay home if you can,” she said. “Cover your cough and wash your hands because everything you touch is infected with the flu.”

Montgomery said during and following the illness, people should use cleaning products that contain alcohol to kill germs on surfaces that are touched.

“Think about the refrigerator, door handles, toilet handles and countertops,” she said.

One rumor Montgomery said she has set out to dispel is the idea the immunization can give people the virus itself.

“A lot of people say they get the shot and then get the worst flu they’ve had,” she said. “What’s likely happened is you’ve already been exposed before you got the shot.”

Montgomery said symptoms take two weeks after exposure to make an appearance.

“Two weeks back, were you with family or friends that had it or you may have gone to a ballgame where people had it,” she said. “You could have picked it up then before you got the shot because the vaccine is a dead virus, so it can’t give it to you.”

Montgomery said the health department has vaccinations available.

“We’re encouraging people to get vaccinated,” she said.

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