Health

Iowans should get flu vaccine this month, public health officials urge

Last year was the deadliest season recorded

(File photo) Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor's office in New York March 22, 2010.  (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
(File photo) Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor's office in New York March 22, 2010. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

The nation is fast approaching another flu season, and state public health officials say Iowans should get their flu vaccine before the end of October to have the best chance of staying healthy this year.

Iowans can expect to see increasing rates of influenza in the coming weeks, and with the high rates of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths nationwide during last year’s season, individuals should get their vaccinations as soon as possible, said Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa Department of Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist.

“The idea is you just want to get it with about two to four weeks before you would ever be exposed to flu because it gives your body that time to build the immunity,” Pedati said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health recommends everyone over the age of six months should receive a flu vaccine.

Anyone can contract the flu, but people 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children younger than five years old are at risk for developing serious flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health officials also encourage all individuals to get a flu vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus to these vulnerable groups.

It’s hard to predict how influenza, a respiratory virus, will present itself each year, but Pedati said this year’s vaccine has been adjusted to line up better with the virus public health officials believe the country will see this season.

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Vaccines protect people against two types of influenza strains — A and B — each of which has a few variations. For example, last year H3N2 was a prominent A strain that made its way across the country.

The flu vaccine shots available to the public are either a trivalent — one that protects against two A strains and one B — or a quadrivalent — one that protects against two types of A and B strains each.

“The flu is a smart virus,” Pedati said. “It changes, it shifts. It can make people very sick and it can kill people, as we’ve seen and continue to see year to year.”

Last year’s was the deadliest flu season since the CDC first started reporting seasonal flu deaths in 1976, according to the latest report from the health protection agency.

Total flu fatalities nationwide from the 2017-2018 season were estimated to be about 80,000 people, including about 180 children — which exceeds the previous record high of 171.

By comparison, the United States saw about 56,000 influenza-related deaths during the 2012-2013 season.

Iowa had 271 total flu fatalities between Oct. 1, 2017, and May 26, 2018 — more than double what the state public health department reported for the previous year.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported no pediatric deaths this past year.

The department reported 1,890 people were hospitalized in Iowa during the last bout of seasonal influenza, the majority of whom were over the age of 64.

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Pedati said public health officials discuss changes in the virus each year in “drifts” and “shifts.” A shift refers to rare, but major changes in the virus that results in events such as the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, which is estimated to have resulted in about 50 million deaths worldwide.

Pedati said public health officials expect what happened this past year was a drift in the virus, meaning there may have been enough change in the virus to cause higher rates of people to become sicker.

“So there’s some thought that maybe there was a bit of a change in the virus,” she said. “We did see more H3N2 than we had in previous years.”

However, in some cases, high infection rates may have to do with the percentage of the population that doesn’t receive vaccinations, she said.

In addition to vaccination, frequent hand washing and covering your coughs are the best way to prevent the spread to others, Pedati said.

The flu usually comes on suddenly for those infected, who may pass the virus onto other before they are aware they are sick. According to the CDC, people with the flu are the most contagious in the first three to four days after an illness begins.

Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue.

If necessary, individuals can be treated with influenza antiviral drugs, which can be obtained through a prescription from a doctor.

Those who believe they are affected should stay home until symptoms subside. Individuals should seek medical attention if they are having trouble breathing, if they have high fevers or they are hard to wake up.

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Those who have a fever that falls but then reoccurs also should see a doctor because they have been infected with a secondary bacteria.

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

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