First flu-related death in Marion Co.; visitor hospital restrictions begin next week

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INDIANAPOLIS – Health officials warn people to protect themselves against what is considered a deadlier strain of the flu than last year.

They urge people to get vaccinated, stating it is not too late to do so. January and February are typically two months that have higher flu numbers.

Marion County Public Health Dept. Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the flu strain is H1N1. She said this strain could likely hospitalize you or lead to death.

Eleven people have died in Indiana because of the influenza. Of those 11 deaths, six of them were in St. Joseph County. Dr. Caine said one of those deaths was a Marion County person. FOX 59 learned the person had some other illnesses that put them at risk. The person, who died this week, was middle-aged.

Health officials made the decision today to implement temporary hospital restrictions because of the rise in flu cases. Dr. Caine said hospitals have treated patients who are extremely ill. Visitor hospital restrictions start next week. The restrictions are for Indianapolis area hospitals. It includes Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety partners.

Until further notice, visitors with influenza-like symptoms are asked to stay home. No one who is under 18 will be allowed to visit a patient in the hospital and only immediate family members, significant others, or partners can visit patients.

“We are in the middle of a flu season and it is important to protect our patients from any potential flu viruses coming from the outside,” Dr. Irmina Gradus-Pizlo, Director of the Advanced Heart Care Program for IU Health Physicians. said.

Duke Andrews spent two days at IU Health Methodist Hospital because of heart problems. He said he is glad health officials are limiting who walks into hospitals.

“I think that’s a good idea. I really do because you have a lot of vulnerable people that are in the hospital and if they’re subjected to it chances are they’re going to get it,” Andrews said.

Andrews got a flu shot more than 4 months ago to protect himself.

“I get one every year because, you know, I’m 70 years old and people my age –if they get the flu- chances are they’re not going to survive,” Andrews said.

IU Health Methodist Hospital has already seen multiple patients who are battling the influenza. The hospital has three patients who are in their intensive care unit that are using an ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine.

“Basically, we can place people on ECMO therapy to basically rest their lungs, while they’re on the ventilator,” Dr. David Roe, Transplant Pulmonologist said.

Dr. Roe said two years ago patients were on ECMO between 5 to 7 days. This year, they are seeing patients who have stayed on ECMO almost 2 weeks. Patients using ECMO therapy have life-threatening complications. Those are their most serious cases. Doctors continue to encourage people can do something about this by getting a flu shot.

“So, if you don’t care about yourself, I want you to think about your loved ones and protect those ones in your household,” Dr. Caine said.

Doctors stressed this new strain is also impacting people who are healthy.

“We’ve had -what I would consider- healthy patients essentially walking off the street into the emergency room,” Dr. Roe said.