County looks at possible flu death

Statewide 79 have died during 2017-18 season

Bartholomew County officials are investigating whether a county resident may have died from the flu.

The Bartholomew County Health Department is gathering medical records as part of an investigation into a death that is being investigated as flu-related, but no determination has yet been made, said Amanda Organist, the health department’s director of nursing.

If confirmed, it would be the first local flu death reported this flu season.

The Indiana Department of Health is reporting widespread flu throughout the state, with Hamilton, Marion, Shelby and St. Joseph counties reporting the largest number of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated deaths. Hamilton and Shelby counties have reported six deaths each so far this flu season; Marion and St. Joseph have each reported five, according to the state health department.

Statewide, as of Friday, 79 people had died from influenza-associated illnesses during the 2017-18 flu season. That’s up from 50 flu-related deaths reported one week earlier.

The largest number of Indiana flu deaths — 58 — have occurred among people 65 and older, according to the state. The second highest number of deaths — 14 — have occurred in victims ages 50 to 64.

Columbus Regional Hospital continues to see high numbers of flu patients — and the hospital’s inpatient and emergency department continues to be busy, said Kelsey DeClue, hospital spokeswoman.

“Our staff has been tremendous at responding and properly managing these cases as they come in, with the typically high numbers we see during this time of year. We remain in close contact with regional and metro hospitals so that we’re all aware of each other’s situations and can assist each other when needed,” she said.

The volume of flu cases nationwide has stressed many health systems, she said.

However, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is not reporting an increase in flu-related absences, said Director of Nursing Kelli Thompson, who gave credit to school nurses, parents, students and staff for healthy habits.

Each fall, flu clinics are offered in each BCSC school building for staff members.

“The nurses in each building work with students, parents and staff to educate and reinforce healthy habits,” Thompson said.

On Friday, the percentage of BCSC students out sick was 3.8 percent, but school officials cannot confirm that all these illnesses were documented influenza, Thompson said. That total represents 449 students, which is about the number typically reported absent on a given day in January, she said.

The school corporation is required to report absenteesim to the local health department and the state attendance officer when the absentee rate is 20 percent or higher for an individual school, she said. The current school administration is not aware of any time that BCSC has had to file such a a report.

At Flat Rock-Hawcreek, school principals said they were seeing a slight increase in student absence but did not have hard numbers to report.

“I can tell you anecdotally that we are having more kids leaving during the day with fever and chills, and there are some kids not showing up,” Hauser Junior-Senior High School Principal David Wintin said.

What you should do

  • During the January flu and cold season, people of all ages are encouraged to follow preventative steps such as washing and sanitizing hands often.
  • If you are or have been sick, consider staying home if possible unless immediate medical attention is needed.
  • If you are sick and must go out, considering wearing protective equipment, such as surgical masks to cover your mouth.
  • If you have a fever or are vomiting, seek medical assistance.

Sources: Columbus Regional Hospital, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. director of nursing

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.