Government

Flu season, already off to bad start, will get worse in Iowa

Even before its peak, virus contributes to six Iowa deaths

Linn County Public Health building, 501 13th St. NW, photographed Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in northwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)
Linn County Public Health building, 501 13th St. NW, photographed Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in northwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

This year’s flu season — one of the most severe in recent years that already has led to scores of people being hospitalized and contributed to six deaths in Iowa — is expected to get worse, state health officials say.

This year’s prominent flu strain, AH3N2, is a “bad actor,” said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. She said the virus typically causes serious illnesses, hospitalizations and even death, particularly for those who are very young or old and those with weakened immune systems.

“This particular strain has somewhere between 30-50 percent effectiveness at causing serious illness,” Quinlisk said.

The department has reported six flu-related deaths in Iowa since October, four of which were reported Friday.

The average age of the victims was 86 and three individuals had underlying conditions or contributing factors.

Since Oct. 1, there have been about 230 flu-related hospitalizations in the state, according to the Health Department. During that same period in 2016, there were 87 hospitalizations.

The Health Department announced it had investigated 21 outbreaks in long-term care facilities this season. Additionally, outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms were higher the last week in December than at last season’s peak.

Health officials don’t see that slowing down.

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“We probably won’t see our peak until end of January, beginning of February,” Quinlisk said. “We’re still on the rise. It really started getting going a week to two weeks ago, and it probably won’t stop rising for another month.”

Quinlisk said the flu season continues into the spring, with sporadic cases occurring throughout the summer.

The flu vaccine, while not perfect, “is the best tool we have,” she said.

It’s not too late to get a flu shot and Quinlisk encourages Iowans to receive their vaccines if they have not done so.

Vaccinations help curb the severity of the flu if someone were to catch the virus, but they also help limit spreading the flu to others.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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