The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, January 14, 2020 1:00 am

Flu leads to facility restrictions

Hospitals, nursing homes taking precautions

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Restrictions on visitors to area hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities will remain in place until a recent rise in the number of patients battling the flu subsides. 

The Allen County Health Department announced the restrictions Monday, after doctors reported seeing more flu cases. 

“(They) were prompted by the continued uptick in influenza-like illness locally,” Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan said in a statement issued by the department, Lutheran Health Network and Parkview Health.

“The more common strains of the virus now being reported are influenza A/H1N1 and influenza B/Victoria, which seem to be covered well by this season's vaccine,” she added. 

Among the restrictions: 

• Those seeking treatment who have cold or flu-like symptoms including fever, cough or muscle aches should wear a mask in public areas such as waiting rooms;

• Visitors younger than 18 and those of any age with flu-like symptoms cannot visit patients;

• Visits to patients are limited to two “essential adults” – designated family members, spiritual counselors, spouses or domestic partners;

• Anyone not allergic to the flu should be vaccinated.

“Like other hospitals in Allen County, we are experiencing an increase in cases among people with flu-like symptoms,” Lutheran Health Network spokeswoman Kara Stevenson said. “The number of cases seen to date is similar to last year, and flu season is expected to continue for several more weeks.”

County health officials will monitor local flu activity to determine when to lift the limitations, which are not mandatory.

The number of new flu cases is not clear. Lutheran, Parkview and IU Health officials each reported more, but they did not provide statistics. 

“Influenza activity started to increase around mid-December, which is typical,” said Dr. Scott Stienecker, Parkview medical director for epidemiology and infection prevention. “Currently, we are seeing a higher-than-normal rise in cases, similar to 2017-18, which was a high activity flu season.”

There also has been a jump in cases of H1N1, “which tends to be more severe in the 25-to-29 age group,” he said. 

Neil Gifford, a spokesman for Indiana University Health, said the provider's local clinic and primary care office have precautions in place, including providing masks for people with flu-like symptoms and encouraging the use of hand sanitizer. 

Flu activity this season is widespread, according to the Indiana State Department of Health, and most cases – about 57% – are in children younger than 4. Twenty-two people in Indiana have died from the virus this flu season, the state reported. 

Indiana is one of five states with moderate flu activity this season, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have said. Most states, including Illinois and Kentucky, have reported high rates of the disease. Ohio has reported low rates.

About 4,200 hospitalizations for influenza-associated illnesses were reported between Oct. 1 and Jan. 4, according to the CDC. Local, state and federal health experts recommend flu shots for everyone older than 6 months. 

Young children and people older than 65 are among groups most at risk for complications from the flu. Nursing homes in Fort Wayne also are taking precautions. 

An employee at Miller's Merry Manor on East State Boulevard confirmed the facility is adhering to the visitation restrictions.

A worker at Saint Ann said she could not comment on current conditions but noted the facility has complied in the past with health department directives. 

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