Public health surveillance by the Iowa Department of Public Health and Linn County Public Health and testing by the State Hygienic Laboratory indicate influenza (flu) activity is increasing. The flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May. “If you have flu symptoms, help out your family, friends and co-workers by staying home to avoid spreading the virus,” said Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi. “It’s also important to remember to cover your coughs and sneezes and clean your hands frequently to help yourself and others stay healthy.”
In the last reporting week, the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network indicated 130 flu-related hospitalizations statewide, mostly among those aged 64 or greater. Several flu outbreaks have been reported in long-term care facilities, especially in central and western Iowa. The most common flu virus circulating is the influenza A(H3N2) strain, although four different strains have been identified. In years when A(H3N2) viruses dominate, the flu season tends to be more severe with more hospitalizations and deaths. Based upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.
The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting flu. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for everyone six months and older. There are multiple strains of the flu reported in Iowa and it is possible to become ill with the flu more than one time this flu season. The flu vaccine protects against multiple strains of the flu. 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:
1. Cover your coughs and sneezes
2. Clean your hands frequently
3. 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 flu. Antivirals work best if started within 48 hours or sooner of when flu symptoms begin.
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. Flu 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 a flu virus but usually by norovirus; thus, the flu vaccine will not protect you against this illness.)
Contact your health care provider or Linn County Public Health to find out where the vaccine is available in your community or use the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.flu.gov. The Linn County Public Health Clinic (501 13th St. NW, Cedar Rapids) can provide the flu vaccine via walk-in or through an appointment. To learn more information, please call 319.892.6093.