The first flu-related death was reported in Iowa last week, but public health directors in Jefferson, Henry and Washington counties think the problem is under control, at least locally.
Jefferson County Public Health Administrator Christine Estle said the number of flu cases seems to be about normal for this time of year.
“We tend to see a spike at the end of January and even into February,” she said. “And if you have not received the flu vaccine, it’s not too late because some places still have it.”
Estle said the public health department is out of flu vaccines, but it is still available at local pharmacies and clinics.
Estle recommends seeing a health care provider if flu symptoms persist for three days or more.
“It’s nice to have cough drops, hard candies, extra tissues and lots of fluids,” she said. “It’s good to treat the symptoms until you know what you’re dealing with.”
The Centers for Disease Control has a list of recommendations on its website about how to avoid spreading germs, and these include: staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone; covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; washing your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub; and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, which is what causes germs to spread.
Estle adds to this list the importance of wearing a mask if you are sick to avoid infecting other people.
First flu death
The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced the first flu-related death of the 2018-2019 flu season on Friday, Jan. 4, in eastern Iowa. The man was reportedly between 41 to 60 years old, and had underlying conditions or contributing factors.
“This death is an unfortunate reminder the flu virus does have the potential to cause severe illness and death, especially in the very young, very old, or those who have underlying health conditions,” IDPH medical director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said in a news release.
Influenza is steadily on the rise after 10 weeks of low activity in Iowa. The geographic spread of the flu in Iowa is regional. Although there has yet to be a confirmed case in Henry and Washington counties, public health directors are hearing reports of some cases.
“I’m hearing people tell me their kids are sick or that they have the flu. What I have not gotten is a confirmed case,” said Danielle Pettit-Majewski, Washington County Public Health director. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have influenza circulating in our community, but in order to get a confirmed case, you have to go to your doctor, get a flu test and get it confirmed by the state hygienics lab.”
The U.S. is not seeing widespread cases of the flu, but Pettit-Majewski said she expected an uptick, especially at the end of January and beginning of February.
Pettit-Majewski said she heard it would be a rough year for the flu, but she hasn’t seen it so far this year.
The strains of flu that are in Iowa are the strains in the flu vaccine, “So that’s promising,” Pettit-Majewski said.
It isn’t too late to get a flu shot, but Pettit-Majewski urges patients to get one sooner rather than later because it takes two weeks to be effective.
If those who have had the flu shot do come down with the flu, the vaccine helps shorten recovery time and the severity of the illness.
The flu vaccine is an inactive virus and cannot give someone the flu.
“Some people will have a reaction: Redness at the injection site, soreness in the arm. That’s normal because it’s your body building an immune response to the virus,” Pettit-Majewski said.
Pettit-Majewski said the flu is a respiratory illness, so while a lot of people think the flu is vomiting and diarrhea, that isn’t often a symptom.
Cover your cough, wash your hands, protect those around you by not going to work if you’re sick or keep your kids home from school if they are sick, Pettit-Majewski said.
Henry County Public Health director Shelley Van Dorin said that anyone six months or older can and should get vaccinated for the flu.
Cindy Cotton, Henry County Health Center (HCHC) quality and infection control director, said every flu season is different, making it impossible to predict the severity of it from one season to the next.
In the past, HCHC has implemented visitor restrictions to protect the health of patients during the flu season. Other precautions include hand sanitation stations and face masks available for anyone experiencing flu symptoms, Cotton said in an email to The News.
The flu season can last as late as May, Cotton said.
Washington County residents can schedule an appointment for a flu shot or go to their local provider or a pharmacy.
To contact the Washington Public Health, call 319-653-7758.
Henry County Public Health holds immunization clinics Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m.; the first and third Thursday of every month from 1 to 6 p.m.; and Tuesdays from 9 to 11 a.m.
To contact the Henry County Public Health, call 319-385-0779.
“It’s more important that you get it than that you get it from us,” Pettit-Majewski said. “We just want to make sure people are protected.”