Flu to blame for 10 Indiana deaths

2013-01-09T20:45:00Z 2013-01-10T07:06:04Z Flu to blame for 10 Indiana deathsVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

The flu is being blamed for 10 deaths in Indiana so far this season, according to data released Wednesday by the Indiana State Department of Health. 

"We are seeing higher than usual rates of influenza, but nowhere near the rate as in '09," said Dr. Alexander Stemer, an infectious disease specialist and president of Munster-based Franciscan Medical Specialists. 

The volume can be attributed to fewer people being vaccinated this year or because the World Health Organization's recommendation for the type of vaccination was wrong, he said. 

Multiple Chicago-area hospitals went on bypass earlier this week, diverting ambulances to other hospitals because emergency rooms were packed with people complaining of flu-like symptoms.

At least two region hospitals were on bypass, but the flu is not necessarily to blame.

The Community Hospital in Munster went on bypass part of Tuesday. 

"Bypass is implemented to alert ambulances of the busiest (emergency departments) when hospitals experience a large surge of patients," hospital spokeswoman Elise Sims said. "However, even in the busiest of times, we accept and treat all patients that come into the (department) for care."

Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospital in Hammond was on bypass Tuesday because of high emergency department volumes, but flu cases were not the sole reason, a spokesperson said.

Hospitals across the region are reporting busier emergency departments.

Methodist Hospitals has experienced an increase in flu cases, particularly in children. 

"We have implemented procedures and processes to continue to accommodate patients," said Victor Garcia, director of critical care for Methodist Hospitals. "We have not turned patients away or gone on bypass. We continue to fulfill our mission to provide services to all those in need."  

Influenza comes on suddenly, with muscle aches, headache, high fever, inflamed sinuses and a cough that produces phlegm, Stemer said.

Those who improve but have a returning fever should seek immediate care, as should pregnant women in their third trimester and older people with a sustained temperature above 103 degrees and shortness of breath, Stemer said. 

Dr. Daniel Netluch, chief of emergency medicine and urgent care for Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point, said doctors can perform a nasal swab to confirm whether a patient has the flu.

Caught in time, symptoms can be lessened with prescription Tamiflu.

"The first line of defense is vaccination," he said.

The flu can be spread by inhaling infected air droplets or touching an infected surface and then touching your nose or face, so washing your hands and using hand sanitizers are helpful preventive steps, Netluch said.

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