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Flu on decline: Virus being replaced by stomach bug

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The flu virus that has killed more than 40 people statewide since November appears to have leveled off and been replaced with a stomach bug that is now spreading, local health officials said.

In recent weeks, local health officials say they’ve seen fewer patients coming in with flu-like symptoms, including respiratory problems and a cough, and more patients coming in with norovirus symptoms, such as dehydration and vomiting.

Health officials say they are unsure if the flu is on the decline for good after hitting earlier and harder this season, but local hospitals no longer are seeing hundreds of patients with flu-like symptoms each week like they had been.

“I think, statistically, it’s dropping off a little bit. But I just don’t know. You have to take it a day at a time. It’ll be gone when it decides to go away,” county health officer Dr. Craig Moorman said.

The number of flu cases at Johnson Memorial Hospital has dropped by two-thirds in recent weeks, hospital director of business development Bill Oakes said.

And Community Hospital South has had a decrease from about 20 patients with flu-like symptoms per day at the beginning of January to about 13 a day now, infection prevention specialist Gayle Walsh said.

Despite the decrease, Community Hospital South and Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis both still have visitor restrictions at the recommendation of the Marion County Health Department. The hospitals started the restrictions two weeks ago and have asked anyone who has flu-like symptoms, is under the age of 18 and is not an immediate family member to hold off on visiting.

People with norovirus symptoms also should not visit, Franciscan St. Francis Health spokesman Joe Stuteville said.

Moorman said people have been getting norovirus since early December, but more people are getting the virus this year because it is a new strain that they are not immune to.

Norovirus is commonly referred to as the stomach flu, but Moorman said the virus is different from the influenza viruses because it causes vomiting and diarrhea, which are not symptoms of the flu.

People can get norovirus from being around people who already have it as well as from eating foods contaminated by the virus, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

Norovirus also is easier to catch, and people should make sure to wash their hands if they come into contact with anyone who has the virus, hospital officials said.

Local hospitals and immediate care centers don’t test for norovirus, because the virus usually runs its course within two days and does not require medicine to treat it.

Instead, people who have norovirus should drink fluids and get plenty of rest.

People who have flu or norovirus symptoms should also stay home from work and school so they don’t spread the viruses, Moorman said.

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