Surveillance by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Greene County public health and testing by the State Hygienic Laboratory indicate flu activity is increasing. The flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May.
In the last reporting week, the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network indicated 130 influenza-related hospitalizations statewide, mostly among those aged 64 or older. Several flu outbreaks have been reported in long-term care facilities, especially in central and western Iowa.
Jill Juergensen, Greene County public health immunization supervisor, said, “If you have flu symptoms, help out your family, friends and co-workers by staying home to avoid spreading the virus.”
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. The flu comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven days. Influenza may cause severe illness or even death in people such as the very young or very old, or those who have underlying health conditions.
(The “stomach bug” which causes diarrhea and vomiting is not caused by the influenza virus but usually by norovirus; thus, the flu vaccine will not protect you against this illness.)
The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting influenza; however, because some of the A(H3N2) viruses may only be partially covered in the vaccine, it’s even more important to take personal actions to help prevent the spread of illness.
Remember the 3Cs, Juergensen recommends: Cover your coughs and sneezes; Clean your hands frequently; and Contain germs by staying home when ill.
Anti-viral medications are an important second line of defense to treat the flu in persons at highest risk of developing more severe illness. Anti-viral medications can make flu illness shorter and reduce the risk of ending up in the hospital or dying from influenza. Antivirals work best if started within 48 hours or sooner of when flu symptoms begin.
While many flu virus strains are identified, the most common flu virus circulating is the influenza A(H3N2) strain. In previous years when this virus strain has been dominant, the flu season tended to be more severe with more hospitalizations and deaths. Based upon CDC’s national estimates, an average of 300,000 Iowans get the flu every year and together, flu and its complication of pneumonia cause an average of 1,000 deaths yearly in Iowa.
Juergensen noted that there are still flu vaccines available through public health. Persons who have not yet had a flu vaccine can contact Greene County public health at 515-386-3228.