Flu-related deaths in Indiana are down compared to this time last year.
A weekly report through the Indiana State Department of Health issued last week shows three people have died from the illness so far during the 2013-14 flu season.
As of Jan. 16, 2013, influenza had been blamed for 21 deaths. Last year's flu season activity began relatively early compared to other years.
Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract, and it spreads through droplets from close contact with people who are infected or contact with contaminated surfaces.
Symptoms include headache, fatigue, cough, muscle aches, sore throat and a fever of 100 degrees or higher, according to health officials.
Several area hospitals have instituted extra precautions to prevent the spread of the disease this season, as flu cases are treated.
"Methodist Hospitals has 'Cover Your Cough' stations located at all access points within our facilities, with masks, tissues and hand gel for use by patients and visitors with respiratory symptoms," said Patricia Mancos, infection control officer with Methodist Hospitals. "Our visitors are advised to visit by phone, rather than come to the hospital when sick."
Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point implemented visitor restrictions Nov. 13, and Franciscan St. Margaret Health hospitals in Dyer and Hammond followed suit two weeks later. The timing was determined via collaboration with infection prevention nurses and infection control medical directors, considering the number of flu cases presented at each hospital.
Restrictions include the following: visitors under age 18 will not be permitted; no more than two people at a time may visit a patient; visitors are asked to sanitize their hands; and people exhibiting flu-like symptoms are asked not to come to the hospital to visit.
Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City and Porter Regional Hospital do not have any visitor restrictions in place at this time.
A flu vaccination is recommended for anyone 6 months or older. Vaccinations are especially recommended for people at higher risk of complications, such as pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
A flu vaccine locator is online at www.statehealth.in.gov.
People are encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and warm water, cover coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue and to stay home when they are sick.