The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) today announced two influenza-related deaths. The two middle-aged (41 to 60 years of age) males were from central Iowa. “Our sympathies go to the families and loved ones of the individuals who died," said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. "These deaths are an unfortunate reminder the flu virus is circulating in Iowa, and does have the potential to cause severe illness and death.” The flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May. The most current surveillance shows three states in the nation have the highest estimated influenza activity – Iowa, Oregon and Rhode Island.
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. The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting influenza; however, it is also important to take personal actions to help prevent the spread of illness. Remember the 3Cs: 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 as soon as, or within 48 hours of when symptoms begin, so it is important to contact your health care provider if you develop symptoms of influenza. Flu symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven days.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. The flu comes on suddenly and may cause severe illness or even death in people such as the very young or very old, or those who have underlying health conditions. Both the current influenza deaths in Iowa occurred in individuals with 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.
Influenza is not a ‘reportable disease’ in Iowa, which means doctors are not required to notify IDPH each time a patient tests positive for influenza; however, IDPH conducts year-round influenza surveillance through the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network. This surveillance indicates what types of influenza viruses are circulating and how widespread influenza illness is. For more information about where and what kind of influenza is in Iowa, go to https://idph.iowa.gov/influenza/reports.
Contact your health care provider or local health department to find out where the vaccine is available in your community or use the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.flu.gov/.