Health

Low vaccine rates contributed to deadly flu season

State medical director encourages precaution over holiday

(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)

Public health officials have found that influenza vaccination rates among adults dropped in recent years, leading some experts to conclude that was likely a contributing factor to making the 2017-18 season the deadliest flu outbreak in recent memory.

Recent reports from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer more details on the past flu season, which hospitalized or killed more Americans than any seasonal flu in more than 40 years.

The federal health protection agency estimated the United States had a 37.1 percent influenza vaccination coverage during the 2017-18 season, a 6 percent decrease from the previous season, according to the latest reports.

It’s also the lowest rate since the 2011-12 season, which had 38.8 percent coverage.

Iowa also saw a drop in its vaccination coverage, according to CDC estimations. The state had 43.6 percent coverage this past season — the lowest rate in eight years.

The previous season recorded a 49.1 percent coverage.

Dr. Caitlin Pedati, Iowa Department of Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist, said some people are concerned about the effectiveness of each year’s vaccine, which can range from 10 percent to 60 percent effectiveness.

In years the flu shot is less effective, some may believe it’s not worth it.

“I understand why people feel that way, but it’s really important to know that even if it’s not a perfect match, you still are getting a little bit of an immune boost, or teasing your immune system a little bit on how to fight these viruses,” Pedati said.

The CDC estimates around 79,400 Americans died due to influenza in the 2017-18 season — which is more than the entire population of Iowa City in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The CDC also estimates:

l 959,000 people were hospitalized.

l 48.8 million were sickened.

The number of flu-associated illnesses last season was the highest since the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, which sickened around 60 million people, the CDC said.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 271 Iowans died during the past flu season, more than double reported fatalities for the previous season.

A total of 1,890 Iowans were hospitalized for influenza-associated illnesses, most of whom were aged 65 and older.

“Part of what was so troublesome from last year was that (the flu) wasn’t just widespread, it was severe, meaning that a lot of people who had it were quite sick,” Pedati said.

Only a small number of influenza cases have been confirmed throughout Iowa so far. Pedati noted public health officials typically see an increase in cases following the holidays, particularly in January and February.

However, with individuals traveling for the holiday this week, the risk is there.

“As wonderful as the holidays are, they tend to increase opportunities for sharing illnesses,” Pedati said.

“Part of the reason for that is we all get together, we travel, we’re in close quarters with each other, we’re interacting with each other more — and that’s exactly how a virus makes its move,” she said. “It moves between people who are near each other.”

As of Nov. 3, there have been 18 reported influenza-associated hospitalizations statewide since the end of September and no deaths have been reported.

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“It’s not too late to get the flu shot,” Pedati said. “It’s an important thing to do to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health recommends everyone over the age of six months 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.

Public health officials encourage all individuals to receive a yearly shot to protect more vulnerable populations as well.

Pedati also encourages individuals to take extra precautions during the holidays by covering their mouths when they cough, washing their hands frequently and staying home when they feel ill.

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

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

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