State health officials are warning Iowans that the latest flu season is under way.
Officials with the Iowa Department of Public Health reported Monday that the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network has identified three strains of flu currently circulating in Iowa – H1N1 (2009 pandemic strain), H3N2 (regular seasonal flu strain), and Influenza B.
While influenza activity remains at a low level, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the department’s medical director, said the identification of three circulating strains means that without a flu vaccination, an individual could become ill with the flu three different times. The flu vaccine, which is plentifully available, covers all three strains of flu that have been detected, she added.
“Simply put, the flu vaccine saves lives,” said Quinlisk. “We estimate an average of 300,000 Iowans get the flu every year and together, flu and its complication of pneumonia are among the top 10 causes of death in Iowa. The most effective way to prevent influenza illness and death is the yearly flu vaccine.”
State health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months of age and older, she said.
Quinlisk said a person’s decision to receive the vaccination or not impacts their entire community, as a yearly flu vaccine not only protects the individual from illness, but also those around them. It’s especially important to be vaccinated if you have regular contact with people more vulnerable to the complications of flu, including babies, children with asthma, and the elderly, she added. The health agency also recommends pregnant women be vaccinated to protect themselves, and to pass on some immunity to their baby.
Accoring to health officials, the flu is a serious respiratory illness caused by viruses. The illness comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. The flu typically lasts two to seven days, and often puts healthy people in bed for days. Influenza may cause severe illness or even death in people such as the very young or very old, or those who have underlying health conditions.
Influenza is not a ‘reportable disease’ in Iowa, which means doctors are not required to notify the state health department each time a patient tests positive for influenza, Quinlisk said. However, the state health agency conducts year-round influenza surveillance through the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network. This surveillance indicates what types of influenza viruses are circulating and how widespread influenza illness is.For more information about where and what kind of influenza is in Iowa, go to www.idph.state.ia.us/Cade/Influenza.aspx?pg=FluHome. Contact your health care provider or local health department to find out where the vaccine is available in your community or use the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.flu.gov/.