Hospitals across Indiana announced restrictions on visitors Wednesday in hopes of preventing the spread of flu, which has claimed the lives of 27 people in the state this season.
Indianapolis health officials asked area hospitals to implement a policy developed in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic. It prohibits people with flu-like illnesses from visiting hospital patients. Additionally, visits are restricted to immediate family, partners and significant others. All visitors younger than 18 must make special arrangements to see a patient.
Hospitals in Bloomington, Lafayette, Munster and Evansville are adopting similar policies.
In 2009, such restrictions were in place for about two months in Marion County.
"This policy is a proven approach to reduce the spread of flu," said Charles Miramonti, chairman of the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety. "You have to move early for something like this."
The spread of flu in the area has not yet reached critical levels, but the illness is still on the rise, said Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department.
Last week, the health department reported 403 emergency department visits countywide for flu-like illnesses, a 69 percent increase from the previous week when emergency departments saw 238 visits for flu-like illnesses.
The new visitation policy goes into effect Friday for Marion County hospitals. Employees at hospital welcoming desks will ask visitors whether they are sick and instruct them to visit at another time if they meet criteria the policy mentions.
Indiana State Health Department spokesman Ken Severson said the agency is still urging Indiana residents to get flu shots because it's not too late to benefit from the vaccine's protections.
"There are ample supplies of the vaccine around the state," he said.
Health officials say it takes about two weeks for the vaccine's full protection to kick in. The vaccines are especially recommended for older people, young children and anyone with medical conditions such as heart or lung diseases that put them at high risk of dangerous flu complications.
The state's ongoing flu outbreak has claimed 27 lives, with 17 of those deaths reported during the past week. At least nine of those who died had received flu vaccine shots, the health department said in its weekly flu report Wednesday.
Twenty of those who have died had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, the report said.
In Vincennes, local pharmacies are running out of the antiviral medication Tamiflu, which is used to slow or stop flu symptoms, the Vincennes Sun-Commercial reported.
The vaccine for the illness is still available across the state. The Marion County health department will hold a free flu shot clinic Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the training center at 4012 N. Rural St. Those younger than 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.