Flu cases on the rise
Influenza is still widespread throughout the state of Iowa, according to the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network (IISN). The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that 68 Iowans were hospitalized for the flu in late December, compared to just two hospitalizations from the same week a year ago.
There have been 188 hospitalizations in Iowa for the flu so far this winter.
Washington County residents have sought to defend themselves against the virus by getting a vaccination. Traci Shirkey, public health nurse at Washington County Public Health, said her department has vaccinated 1,075 people for the flu so far this year. That number is actually down significantly from last year when it was 1,375 at this same time.
Shirkey said the data can be misleading since there are other outlets in the county, such as pharmacies, that also vaccinate against the flu. She suspects that pharmacies are vaccinating more people for the flu and that the total number of Washington County residents who get vaccinated is probably about the same as last year.
HyVee pharmacist Kayla Beatty said her pharmacy has vaccinated 807 people this winter. She said that number was comparable to what it was a year ago.
The flu vaccine contains three dead strains of the most common types of influenza virus, which are Influenza A, Influenza B and H1N1. The A strain alone has accounted for over 90 percent of all influenza cases this year.
The State Hygienic Lab has reported that Influenza B makes up about 6 percent of the cases while H1N1 is less than 1 percent of cases. So far this year, two people have contracted the H1N1 virus, which was the most common flu type three years ago. Both of those people were children under age 18.
Shirkey said that public health offers to give the vaccine to patients through a mist instead of an injection. The mist is given to the patient through the nostrils. Unlike the injection in the arm, which contains a dead virus, the mist contains a weakened virus. This option is available to people ages 2 through 49.
Washington County Public Health provides vaccines for free to children under 21 years of age who either don’t have health insurance or who are on a health insurance plan that does not cover vaccines. Shirkey said the majority of public health’s vaccination patients are children.
For the week ending Dec. 22, 2012, several schools in Iowa reported that more than 10 percent of its student body was absent due to illness. Fifteen schools in all met that description, including one in Iowa County, which borders Washington County. There have been 89 instances of a school with 10 percent or more illness-related absences so far this school year.
Iowa Public Health recommends all school children receive a flu vaccination before returning to school after the holidays. That is when Iowa usually sees a surge in school outbreaks of the flu. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that every child over 6 months old be vaccinated.
The Iowa Department of Public Health stated in a release that the influenza vaccine is highly efficient at preventing serious illness that leads to hospitalization and death, while acknowledging it is between 60 and 85 percent effective at preventing all symptoms of the flu.
The IDPH stated that a person’s age and physical fitness help determine how severely he is affected by the flu. A vaccinated person who is healthy, young and has been vaccinated in previous years will have a 90 percent protection against flu symptoms and nearly 100 percent protection against flu-related death.
The elderly, sick and previously unvaccinated do not fare nearly as well. For them, the vaccine provides a 40 to 60 percent protection against symptoms and a 70 to 80 percent protection against death.