By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
As a result of the flu outbreak in Indiana, the two Howard County hospitals have imposed restrictions on visitors.
Both Community Howard Regional Health and St. Joseph Hospital have imposed visiting restrictions which take effect today. The restrictions are similar to those implemented during the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009.
The hospital will not allow visitation by anyone under the age of 18; only immediate family (spouse, adult children or caregivers) can visit patients; and no visitors will be allowed with flu-like illness, fever or cold.
Patients entering the emergency rooms at both hospitals for treatment of the flu will be given a mask to wear.
Jim Alender, CEO of Community Howard Regional, said Thursday because of the significant flu outbreak in the community the decision to limit visitation was to protect patients.
“We did mandate, for the first time, that all employees be vaccinated for the flu,” he said. “We used to get 70 to 85 percent participation. It’s difficult for us in the health care profession why we wouldn’t be vaccinated.
“People come to the hospital because they’re sick,” Alender said. “We don’t want to infect patients as employees go from room to room. There was a concern for some employees, but it was the right thing to do.”
Alender said the visitation limitation policy was done in coordination with St. Joseph Hospital, which followed the actions taken by Indianapolis hospitals.
Sandy Herman, marketing director at St. Joseph Hospital, said the decision was made in the best interest of patients.
IU Health Tipton Hospital implemented visitation restrictions Jan. 11 which included only two healthy visitors per patient, children ages 15 and under are prohibited from visiting; and anyone with flu symptoms were asked not to visit.
The Indiana State Health Department reported Wednesday that there have been 27 flu-related deaths in the state, with 24 people over the age of 65 that have died. Last year there was no flu related deaths in Indiana and only three during the winter of 2010-2011.
State health officials, in cooperation with local health departments, have reached out to long term care facilities to advise on the seriousness of influenza and provide recommendations for reducing its spread and encouraging the facilities to offer the vaccine to residents and staff.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now reporting that flu-deaths have reached epidemic levels, which simply means the nation is experiencing a higher number of flu-related deaths than was expected.
According to the CDC website the flu is widespread throughout the United States except for in California, Mississippi and the District of Columbia.
“We are experiencing a more severe season than in recent years, however it’s important to recognize that flu is unpredictable and we have been through this before,” said State Health Commissioner William VanNess II, M.D. “Everyone older than 6 months should be vaccinated as a first line of defense. Frequent hand washing, covering your cough and staying home if you’re not feeling well will also help protect you and keep the flu from spreading,” he said.
No shortage of flu vaccine is being reported, but health officials say there are reports of some locations temporarily depleting their supply due to the current high demand. A flu vaccine locator can be found at www.StateHealth.in.gov. Flu vaccine can usually be found at local health departments, pharmacies and with health care providers.
In a report last week, the CDC said the 2012-2013 influenza vaccine was about 62 percent effective. This season’s vaccine offers protection against the three most common strains of influenza: H3N2, H1N1 and Influenza B. The H3N2 strain appears to be predominant thus far in the 2012-2013 flu season. Health officials stress that the flu vaccine is the best protection against flu.