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Area hospitals see increase in patients; snow days help students stay healthy

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The flu is hitting Indiana hard, but few in Johnson County were heading to the hospital or searching out antiviral medication until this month.

Local hospitals are noticing a recent uptick in flu cases. Ten people each day are being admitted to Franciscan St. Francis Health with the flu, when a week ago the southside Indianapolis hospital averaged one person a day.

At Johnson Memorial Hospital, there were 13 confirmed flu cases in December. That number has jumped to 24 so far this month.

Six weeks ago, the Walgreens pharmacy on U.S. 31 in Greenwood was filling one or two prescriptions per week for the antiviral medication Tamiflu. Now, one or two patients per day are picking up the flu medicine, pharmacy manager Trent Chappell said.

At least six out of nine employees at Franklin Insurance have suffered through the flu this season, including insurance agent Stephen Brown, who got his flu shot in September.

Early this month, Brown developed the symptoms of the flu, including a fever, body aches, cough and sinus pain, but he thinks his flu shot kept his illness short, he said. He was sick for about a day.

His sister, who didn’t get a flu shot and got sick at the same time he did, was ill for five days, he said.

The increase in flu cases hasn’t been noticed countywide. For example, local schools and Endress + Hauser in Greenwood haven’t had a surge in absences related to the flu.

Endress + Hauser, one of the county’s largest employers, provided vaccinations to 40 percent of its about 500 workers and has only had five flu cases reported, Jane Archer, family nurse practitioner at the company’s clinic, said.

At local hospitals, all employees are required to get flu shots, so not many nurses and other staffers have missed work this flu season, India Owens, Franciscan St. Francis Health director of emergency services, said.

Local students already have been missing school because of snowy and cold weather.

Snow days following weeks off for Christmas break might have prevented an outbreak by keeping sick students at home, Franklin Community Schools Superintendent David Clendening said.

Center Grove Community School Corp. hasn’t had any reported flu cases, health services coordinator Carla Slauter said.

The total number of flu cases in the county isn’t tracked, and the county and state departments of health are not permitted to confirm whether or not Johnson County has had any flu fatalities if the number is less than five.

After 11 deaths were reported statewide and the symptoms of fever, aches and coughs were spreading, local hospitals started taking precautions to protect patients, staff and visitors from picking up or spreading the nasty virus.

Hospitals are telling residents that it’s not too late to get flu shots because the flu season could last another four months.

Starting this week, Franciscan St. Francis Health and Community Hospital South were indefinitely limiting the number of friends and family members that patients can have visit them.

The restrictions limit visitors to immediate family members who are older than 18 and don’t have flu symptoms. The restrictions are meant to protect patients from contracting the flu while they’re in the hospital for other treatment.

The flu is passed through water droplets, such as from a sick person’s sneeze. The typical season for the virus starts in the fall and can run through April, Chappell said.

The visitation restrictions worked last year, and no patients acquired the flu while hospitalized, said Gayle Walsh, Community Hospital South infection prevention site leader.

Johnson Memorial Hospital is asking hospital visitors to follow similar guidelines but isn’t requiring them to do so, unlike the other two hospitals.

Franciscan St. Francis is requiring emergency room patients with flu symptoms to wear masks that cover their noses and mouths.

Community Hospital South is isolating possible flu patients from other people in the emergency room, and it is providing visitors and nurses with masks to wear when entering flu patient rooms.

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