Health

Healthier flu season attributed to higher vaccination rate

Fewer Iowans sick this year, public health officials say

Downey Regional Medical Center RN Connie Meinke holds a syringe filled with the flu vaccine before injecting a fellow employee on January 17, 2013. Like many hospitals across the U.S., the Downey, California, facility is preparing for the flu onslaught. The hospital is asking all of their employees to be vaccinated. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Downey Regional Medical Center RN Connie Meinke holds a syringe filled with the flu vaccine before injecting a fellow employee on January 17, 2013. Like many hospitals across the U.S., the Downey, California, facility is preparing for the flu onslaught. The hospital is asking all of their employees to be vaccinated. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

This year’s influenza season to date has taken a less severe turn than the previous season, indicating to state public health officials more Iowans heeded the warnings to get a flu shot.

More people have remained healthier and avoided infection from a flu virus in the 2018-19 influenza season thus far compared to the previous season — which ultimately resulted in more than 250 deaths and nearly 1,900 hospitalizations by its end — according to the latest report from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The flu season is considered to run from the end of August until May.

“Last year’s flu season was notable for the severity, the number of people affected and the rate of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Caitlin Pedati, state epidemiologist and medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “This year, we’re not seeing quite the severity or quite the volume of people effected.”

In the 2017-18 influenza season, there were 29 influenza-related deaths in Iowa nearly 600 hospitalizations by Jan. 13.

By comparison, as of Jan. 12 of the current flu season, there have been two deaths and 93 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

In addition, the number of outpatient visits for influenza-like illnesses in recent weeks remains much lower than visits that took place in the past season, according to IDPH reports. The percent of outpatient visits attributed to influenza-like illnesses in the current flu season was 1.13 percent as of Jan. 12.

As of Jan. 13 of the 2017-18 season, flu attributed to 3.23 percent of all outpatient visits in Iowa.

Pedati attributed the flu shot to aiding this season’s lower numbers.

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“We won’t have the full picture until end of season, but we can already tell more people have received a vaccine in Iowa,” she said.

Low vaccination rates among adults likely contributed to the high mortality rates last season, which hospitalized or killed more Americans than any seasonal flu in more than 40 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimated:

• 79,400 Americans died due to influenza.

• 959,000 were hospitalized.

The flu season in Iowa this season is widespread, meaning “there’s a fair amount of activity,” Pedati said.

There have been seven outbreaks in long-term care facilities investigated and seven schools across the state reported more than 10 percent absenteeism due to illness since the start of the flu season on Aug. 30.

It is not too late for Iowans to receive a flu shot if they have not already done so, Pedati said.

“We’re wanting people to be aware of the things they can do to prevent themselves from becoming ill, and the vaccine is a good way to do that,” Pedati said.

A seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for everyone aged six months and older.

Individuals who are very young, very old or pregnant or whose immune systems are compromised are most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from influenza.

Symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, are more common in children than adults.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include trouble breathing, not waking up or not interacting, and flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with a fever and a worse cough.

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Individuals are encouraged to cover their coughs, wash their hands frequently and to stay home when they are sick.

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