Flu-related hospitalizations increasing statewide

Surveillance by the Iowa Department of Public Health and testing by the State Hygienic Laboratory indicate flu activity is increasing. The flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May. According to the State, anyone with flu symptoms should help out family, friends and co-workers by staying home to avoid spreading the virus and also remember to cover coughs and sneezes, and wash hands frequently.
In the last reporting week, the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network indicated 130 influenza-related hospitalizations statewide, mostly among those aged 64 or greater. Several flu outbreaks have been reported in long-term care facilities, especially in central and western Iowa. The most common flu virus circulating is the influenza A(H3N2) strain, although four different strains have been identified. In years when A(H3N2) viruses dominate, the flu season tends to be more severe with more hospitalizations and deaths. Based upon CDC’s national estimates, an average of 300,000 Iowans get the flu every year and together, flu and its complication of pneumonia cause an average of 1,000 deaths yearly in Iowa.
The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting influenza; however, because some of the A(H3N2) viruses may only be partially covered in the vaccine, it’s even more important to take personal actions to help prevent the spread of illness. Remember the 3Cs: Cover your coughs and sneezes; Clean your hands frequently; and Contain germs by staying home when ill.
Anti-viral medications are an important second line of defense to treat the flu in persons at highest risk of developing more severe illness. Anti-viral medications can make flu illness shorter and reduce the risk of ending up in the hospital or dying from influenza. Antivirals work best if started within 48 hours or sooner of when flu symptoms begin.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses. The flu comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven 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. (The “stomach bug” which causes diarrhea and vomiting is not caused by the influenza virus but usually by norovirus; thus, the flu vaccine will not protect you against this illness.)
Immunization clinics are held at Veterans Memorial Hospital Community and Home Care from 1 to 6 p.m. the first and third Wednesdays of the month and from 1 to 4 p.m. all other Wednesdays.  Flu vaccine, pneumonia vaccine, and a combination of flu and pneumonia vaccine are all available. Tetanus shots are offered as well.
The cost for a flu shot is $25. Medicare does cover the costs. Billing for Medicare will be completed by the Community and Home Care staff, but participants will need to bring their physician’s name and their Medicare number with them.  Pneumonia shots are also available for $75 and Tdap shots for $48.
The next flu shot clinics will be held Wednesday, January 7 from 1-6 p.m. and then again Wednesday, January 14 from 1-4 p.m. and each Wednesday afternoon thereafter. The Community and Home Care Immunization Clinic is located on the upper level of Veterans Memorial Hospital.  
For more information, contact Veterans Memorial Hospital Community and Home Care at 563-568-5600.