Flu vaccine is getting harder to come by as the flu outbreak grows nationally.
The Crawford County Health Department has several doses of influenza vaccine for children ages six to 35 months but is out of vaccine for adults. Nursing Supervisor Terry Shaffer said the department hopes to get more next week.
The department's main distributors have run out, so it has gone to a smaller company. Shaffer said it is the same vaccine they have gotten in the past.
Because the supply is short, shots will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis once more medicine arrives; no appointments will be made. The department will be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Meanwhile, Crawford Memorial Hospital has started to see a large number of patients with the flu, Chief Executive Officer Don Annis said. Annis urged people to get flu shots if they have not already. He also asked that anyone with flulike symptoms not visit the hospital.
There have been some cases in Robinson Unit 2 schools. "Absences are up a bit, but nothing terrible at this point," nurse Susan Inboden said. "I think we're doing pretty good."
Inboden added school officials are emphasizing washing hands and have a good supply of hand sanitizer available.
As with much of the country, Illinois is experiencing a severe flu season with many people becoming sick and more hospitalizations and deaths being reported than in previous years.
"There is no doubt we are experiencing a severe flu season. However, we have seen severe flu seasons before and we will continue to work to reduce the number of people who become ill," said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. "It is important for people to take precautions - get vaccinated, stay home if you're sick and wash your hands frequently. Doing all these things will not only help keep you healthy, but the people around you healthy."
More than 370 people have been admitted to intensive care units around the state with flu. Twenty-seven of them have died. Flu has killed the same number in Indiana.
Indianapolis health officials have asked area hospitals to implement a policy developed in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic. It prohibits people with flu-like illnesses from visiting hospital patients. Additionally, visits are restricted to immediate family, partners and significant others. All visitors under 18 must make special arrangements to see a patient. Hospitals in Munster and Evansville are adopting similar policies during the outbreak, according to local news reports.
In 2009, such restrictions were in place for about two months in Marion County.
"This policy is a proven approach to reduce the spread of flu," said Charles Miramonti, chairman of the Indianapolis Coalition for Patient Safety. "You have to move early for something like this."
The spread of flu in the area has not yet reached critical levels, but the illness is still on the rise, said Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department.
Last week, the health department reported 403 emergency department visits countywide for flu-like illnesses, a 69 percent increase from the previous week when emergency departments saw 238 visits for flu-like illnesses.
The new visitation policy goes into effect for Marion County hospitals on Friday. Employees at hospital welcoming desks will ask visitors if they are sick, and instruct them to visit at another time if they meet criteria the policy mentions.
State health department spokesman Ken Severson said the agency is still urging Indiana residents to get flu shots because it's not too late to benefit from the vaccine's protections.
"There are ample supplies of the vaccine around the state," he said.
Health officials say it takes about two weeks for the vaccine's full protection to kick in. The vaccines are especially recommended for older people, young children and anyone with medical conditions such as heart or lung diseases that put them at high risk of dangerous flu complications.
Indiana's flu outbreak has claimed 27 lives, with 17 of those deaths reported during the past week. Nine of those who died had received flu vaccine shots.
Wednesday's flu update from the State Department of Health says 20 of the people who have died in Indiana had underlying medical conditions such as heart disease.
In Vincennes, where Good Samaritan Hospital was among the first in the area to put restrictions on visitors, local pharmacies are running out of the antiviral medication Tamiflu, which is used to slow or stop flu symptoms. Other parts of the country also have reported shortages of the drug.
Common symptoms of flu include sore throat, high fever, cough, body aches and feeling fatigued. The IDPH recommends people contact a health professional before going to an emergency department if they are experiencing flu symptoms. The majority of people suffering from the flu simply need to stay home, rest, use over-the-counter remedies as needed and let the flu run its course.
Besides being immunized annually, the Centers for Disease Control offered these tips for avoiding the flu:
Wash hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs.
Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth as germs spread this way.
Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
Wear a facemask to reduce the risk of getting sick or from infecting others.