GREENFIELD — They come with their body aches, their fevers and runny noses — all the symptoms of flu but no official diagnosis.
The sign posted to the front door at Hancock Immediate Care alerts patients the office is out of flu tests. They’ll be without them for the foreseeable future because of a shortage from the manufacturer amid the worst flu season in nearly a decade, said Jenn Cox, a hospital spokeswoman.
The emergency department at Hancock Regional Hospital is stocked with tests and should have enough to make it through the last few weeks of the flu season. But many doctors offices are telling patients if they have flu symptoms to just assume the worst — because they’ve also run short of tests that provide an official diagnosis.
This year’s flu season is the worst since the swine flu pandemic in 2009, according to The Associated Press. Last week, 48 states reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the flu was widespread in their area. At the same time last year, cases of the flu were reported as sporadic.
More than 850 people, including 136 Hoosiers, have died from flu since the start of the year, according to the CDC. In Hancock County, at least two people, both local hospice patients, have died from complications of the flu, Cox said.
Fifty-three children around among the dead nationwide, including one Bartholomew County girl who died after she tested positive for the flu, strep throat and scarlet fever.
No Hancock County children have died from the flu, but the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department’s preschool program reported at least one of its students was hospitalized because of the flu. Several others had been taken to the emergency department with flu-like symptoms since the start of the flu season in late December.
The preschool programs coordinators, along with nurses at all four of the county’s school districts, are pleading with parents to keep their sick kids home in hopes stemming the spread of germs.
Wes Anderson, spokesman for New Palestine Schools, said it’s hard to put number on how many students have been out of school because of the flu. Absences are up “not significantly more — but more” from this time last year, he said in an email to the Daily Reporter.
Dawn Hanson, the corporation nurse for Greenfield-Central Schools, said the district has imposed a strict rule that flu-battling students and teachers be kept from school and remain home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the help of medicines.
Reducing the spread of influenza — for adults and children alike — includes staying home when you are sick, Hanson said.
Those who have been to the doctor will often get a doctor’s note that includes an estimated date when the patient might be healthy enough to return to school or work; but patients shouldn’t feel pressured to adhere to that suggestion if they aren’t feeling well enough, she said.
Hanson said she’s constantly monitoring the CDC’s website to see how the flu is spreading across the country.
Even though its late in the season, she’s still encouraging students, school employees and parents to get a flu shot. Frequently washing hands, avoiding touching the face and wiping down all common surfaces will also keep the flu at bay, she said.
“Every little bit we do could potentially save someone’s life,” she said.