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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flu: More cases diagnosed early in season

Monday, December 17, 2012

Widespread is the way the Iowa Department of Public Health reports the number of influenza cases in the state as of Friday.

There are more cases of the flu across the state of Iowa, according to Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist.

There are also more outbreaks of flu in the state, compared to a year ago, she said.

The influenza activity was upgraded from regional activity to widespread as of Dec. 8, according to the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network.

"This is early in the year to have flu be widespread -- usually we don't have this until later on in January and we're having high numbers of influenza compared to other years," Quinlisk said.

The trends are an early indication that this is going to be an early and more severe season for the flu, she said.

There is good news, Quinlisk added.

"The (flu) vaccine is a very good match for the flu cases," she said. "So if you get the vaccine, it should give you pretty good protection."

There have been some very serous flu-related illnesses in the state this year, she said.

"The people most likely to be hospitalized are babies and people who are older; also anybody who has a medical condition which affects heart, lungs and metabolic conditions such as diabetes," Quinlisk said.

With the exception of babies, all of those people can be vaccinated, she said.

While the rest of the flu season is difficult to predict, it could be severe, according to Quinlisk.

"The flu started early and we've seen three different strains which means people could get the flu three different times -- one strain will not protect you from the others," she said.

The only protection is flu vaccine, she explained.

Locally, providers at Floyd Valley Hospital's Family Medicine Clinics treated the first case of flu in late September, according to Kari VanDam, registered nurse and wellness coordinator.

"After talking with the lab, we've had 50 confirmed cases of flu," VanDam said. "This early in the year, that's a high number."

The flu patients are being treated for is mostly influenza "B, " she said.

This "B" strain involves more typical flu symptoms such as fever, coughs and gastro-intestinal symptoms such as vomiting, nausea and possibly diarrhea, VanDam explained.

If someone did not get the flu vaccine yet, it's not too late, according to Deb Steffen, Floyd Valley Community Health nurse-manager.

"Especially with the holiday travel coming up, if they haven't gotten a vaccination, it is suggested they do so in the next few days," she said.

When she looked at a map of Iowa showing flu outbreaks, she said she saw many cases in northwest Iowa, but central and eastern Iowa have more cases.

"Travel always spreads the flu because it's being brought from other areas," she said.

Floyd Valley Community Health administered about 1,450 flu vaccinations through clinics in the area this fall.

The number of vaccinations given to people by Floyd Valley Community Health is less than a year ago.

However, that doesn't mean fewer people in the county received protection from the virus through vaccination.

"I think more people are going to medical clinics because insurance is covering the vaccination and we don't bill insurance companies," Steffen said.

Floyd Valley Community Health completed fall clinics offering vaccinations and will no longer offer vaccine this year.

However, flu vaccine is available through local health care providers.

Family Medicine Clinics offer vaccine through shots or mist.

"People may call our main telephone number and schedule an appointment," VanDam said. "They may come in and there's a paper to fill out and answer a couple of questions and sign a consent form and they'll get vaccinated."

In addition to flu vaccine, a recommendation to reduce the spread of the illness is hand washing, according to Quinlisk, Steffen and VanDam.

People who are not feeling well should stay home, they also said.

"If you have a sudden onset of a fever, cough and you're ill and want to see a health care provider, avoid other people until you can see that physician to find out exactly what it is you have," VanDam said.

The flu is highly contagious so you should seclude yourself as much as possible, she added.

There is medication to reduce the symptoms of the flu, Quinlisk said.

A physician may also chose to treat members of a family when a case of the flu has been confirmed, VanDam said.

"Call your physician -- depending on your health status, the physician may decided to treat others preventatively, and, sometimes they may wait and see if you get symptoms and see you then; it's up to the practitioner's discretion."

Medical professions and people will be dealing with the virus for some time, according to the three health care professionals.

Quinlisk recommends vaccine now due to the holiday travel and the possibility of a prolonged flu season.

"If you get a flu vaccination in the next couple of days, you'll be protected for the holidays -- you're chances are you'll have good protection," she said.

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