Flu activity is increasing nationally and across the state, with the first pediatric flu-related death reported this week, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. The departmentáhas also been notified of several probable adult deaths related to influenza.
Nationally, 10 influenza-related pediatric deaths have been reported, according to theáCenters for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cases of influenza are increasing week to week, said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, who added that flu activity is particularly high in Eastern and Central Iowa. She believes the activity level will soon rise from "regional" to "widespread," with the number of flu cases peaking in February.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. Symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven days.
According to the Jan. 4 department of health weekly influenza activity report, there were 57 influenza-associated hospitalizations, 76 cases of seasonal influenza A, including 70 cases of the 2009 H1N1 strain.
"But remember those numbers are about two weeks old," she said. "They are artificially low."
So far this season, a total of 295 cases of influenza have been confirmed in Iowa, with the 2009 H1N1 virus predominating. The H1N1 strain affects otherwise healthy children and young adults, Quinlisk said.
According to the CDC, flu is now widespread in 35 states, with particularly high rates mostly in the South and Southwest, Reuters reported.
No Iowa schools have reported a 10 percent or greater absenteeism due to illness for the Jan. 4 reporting week, but Quinlisk anticipates that number will soon change since all schools are now back in session.
Although strains of flu were first reported in November, the department of public health is still recommending flu shots. Flu shots prevented an estimated 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses during the 2012-2013 flu season, according to a December CDC report.
Influenza vaccines reduced the number of flu illnesses and hospitalizationsáby 17 percent last year, preventing 3.2 million medically attended illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations.
Despite the vaccine benefits, only 35.7 percent of adults aged 18 to 65 got a flu shot during the 2012-2013 flu season, Reuters reported. That compared with 56.6 percent of children age 6 months to 17 years, and 66.2 percent of seniors 65 and older who were vaccinated during 2012-2013.
Only 12 states had vaccination rates of 50 percent or higher, including Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Tennessee, according to Reuters.
CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older to get a yearly flu vaccination. It is especially important foráyoung children,ápeople 65 and older and pregnant women.All strains circulating in Iowa are covered by the flu vaccine, Quinlisk said.