Indianapolis' major hospitals will begin restricting visitors on Friday to curb the spread of influenza following a spike in emergency-room visits for flu-like symptoms, local health officials said Wednesday.
Hospitals agreed to bar visitors who are under age 18, showing signs of symptoms or not immediate family of patients, according to the Marion County Public Health Department. The restrictions, similar to steps taken last year, will remain in place until local health officials determine they're no longer needed.
"This extra line of protection is needed right now in order to reduce the risk of exposing patients, visitors and hospital staff to the flu virus," Dr. Virginia Caine, direct of the state health department, said in a news release. "Influenza is a contagious virus that can cause significant illness and, in certain cases, lead to hospitalization or death."
The steps are being taken after hospitals saw a 74 percent increase in emergency-room visits from patients whose chief complaint was influenza-like symptoms. For the week of Feb. 21-27, hospitals reported that such patients accounted for 293 emergency room visits - or 2.4 percent of all ER visits, according to the health department. During the previous week, emergency rooms reported only 168 such patient visits, or 1.8 percent of total ER visits.
Flu symptoms include fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, headache, fatigue, cough, muscle aches and sore throat.
The hospitals participating in the restrictions include those within the Community, Indiana University, St. Vincent and Franciscan St. Francis health networks, as well as the Richard L. Roudebush V.A. Medical Center. The health department encouraged visitors to check specific hospitals' websites or call the facilities to learn more about its restrictions.
Similar restrictions were imposed Monday at Riverview Health in Noblesville, a suburb north of Indianapolis.
Since October, 19 Indiana residents — including two children — have died of flu-associated illnesses, the Indiana State Department of Health reported Friday. Health officials have urged everyone age 6 months and older to get flu shots.