Flu season hits hard this year
The number of influenza cases in Iowa is sky-high compared to last year at this same time. Washington County Public Health Nurse Lynn Fisher said there have been 378 cases of flu this season. Last year, there had only been 10 cases by this date.
“The flu season usually begins in November and peaks in February,” she said. “It’s increasing pretty rapidly this year, more than normal.”
Fisher said there have already been 49 hospitalizations because of the flu. There were eight at this time last year.
Fisher encourages everybody who can to get a flu shot. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) attempt to predict what the most common strains of flu will be each year. The CDC selects three strains it believes will be the most common and puts a weakened form of each one in a vaccine.
This year, the flu vaccine included the strains Influenza A, Influenza B and H1N1. Fisher said nearly all of the reported cases have been of Influenza A, and that a few others have been of Influenza B.
Fisher said the A strain has accounted for more than 90 percent of influenza cases in the state, and that the B strain makes up about 6 percent. H1N1 has accounted for 1 percent of the cases. Fisher said there exist many more strains of flu than that, but that they make up a tiny fraction, less than 1 percent, of the reported cases.
“The CDC is always working on improving vaccines,” she said. “There’s talk there could be four strains in the vaccine next year. I know they’re working on that.”
Fisher said that getting a flu vaccine is the easiest way to prevent contraction of the flu. She said the flu is commonly spread by people who go to work when they should be home in bed.
“People who go to work sick and don’t cover their cough can spread the flu,” she said.
Fisher said washing one’s hands after a cough or a sneeze is a good idea. Failure to do that can cause the virus to get on doorknobs, handles or anything else that multiple people would touch in a day.
Schools are a common feeding ground for influenza. Fisher said schools in the area have made an effort to combat the spread of germs by placing hand sanitizer throughout the school buildings.
Influenza can be fatal to people with a weakened immune system, such as an elderly person or an infant.
“Those are the ones who get hospitalized for the flu,” Fisher said. “The state is tracking pediatric mortality due to flu. So far this season, there have been zero deaths for pediatrics.”
For those who have the flu, Fisher recommends taking medications to relieve their symptoms. She tells people to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
“You don’t have much of an appetite with the flu, and if you’re sleeping all day, you could get dehydrated,” she said.