INDIANAPOLIS — Several hospitals are enacting visitation restrictions as the state is seeing an increase in flu activity.

On Monday, the Marion County Public Health Department asked hospitals in the county to begin temporary visitation restrictions. The request comes as the CDC says hospitalization rates are higher than at the same time during every previous season since 2010-2011.

The Marion County Public Health Department says hospitalizations have also been high locally. During the week of Nov. 20-26, the rate of influenza-like illness reported in patients at Marion County emergency departments was the highest in 10 years.

“Flu is hitting Marion County hard right now and much earlier than it has in recent years,” said Dr. Caine. “Along with recommending the flu vaccine and encouraging frequent handwashing, these restrictions are part of a multi-faceted effort to help protect the most vulnerable patients in our community from the flu virus, which can cause significant illness and, in certain cases, lead to extended hospitalization or death.”

The department says hospitals of all health systems in Marion County have agreed to implement Tier 1 of the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety’s visitor policy beginning Monday. This restriction includes:

  • No visitors with symptoms of influenza.
  • No visitors under the age of 18.
  • Visitors limited to two immediate family members as identified by the patient.

The wearing of masks by hospital visitors will also be required.

Marion County hospitals participating in the temporary visitor restrictions include hospitals within Community Health Network, Franciscan Health Indianapolis, Ascension St. Vincent, Indiana University Health, and Eskenazi Health.   

“It’s really an attempt to keep our patients and staff as safe as possible,” said Dr. Christopher Doehring, Vice President of Medical Affairs for Franciscan Health. “This is something we’ve always done, in terms of addressing influenza season. This is earlier than normal, typically we’d see it spike in January or February with a spike. This year, it’s hitting a little earlier which is the result of flu and Covid-19 this year.”

“We have a lot of full beds backing up our Emergency departments,” Dr. Doehring said. “A lot more people are seeking care in the ER. Thankfully at this point, the burden on ICU hasn’t hit the same level we’ve had during COVID pandemic surges.”

Visitors should check with a hospital’s website or call the facility in advance to learn more about its specific restrictions and any exceptions. The department said special arrangements can be made with each facility to allow additional visitors or younger visitors based on circumstances, such as end of life.

The department is also encouraging everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot as the first and most important step for protecting against flu viruses. CDC data shows the majority of influenza viruses tested are similar to those included in this season’s vaccine.

The CDC says the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

“If you haven’t gotten your flu shot, it’s not too late,” Dr. Doehring said. “While those won’t protect you from getting those viruses, it will help protect against severe illness.”