DES MOINES — 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 the state: H1N1 (the 2009 pandemic strain), H3N2 (the regular seasonal flu strain) and Influenza B.
Flu season is also under way in Illinois, state health officials there confirmed. While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Protection, or CDC, classifies Illinois as having no flu activity and Iowa with sporadic activity, some cases have turned up.
Two cases of the A strain of influenza, or H3N2, were reported in early October, said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Influenza activity remains at a low level, though, and Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the state of Iowa medical director, said the identification of three circulating strains in the state means that without a flu vaccination, an individual could become ill with the disease three different times.
The flu vaccine, which is plentifully available, covers all three strains of the flu that have been detected, she added.
“Simply put, the flu vaccine saves lives,” Quinlisk said. “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 CDC recommend annual influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older.
Quinlisk said a person’s decision to receive the vaccination or not impacts their entire community since a yearly flu vaccination not only protects the individual from illness, but also those around them. It is especially important to be vaccinated if you have regular contact with people more vulnerable to flu complications, including babies, children with asthma and the elderly, she added. The health agency also recommends that pregnant women be vaccinated to protect themselves and to pass some immunity onto their unborn child.
For more information about where and what kind of influenza is in Iowa, go to idph.state.ia.us. 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 flu.gov. In the Quad-City region, they are available through some county health departments, many pharmacies and at doctor's offices.
According 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 it often puts healthy people in bed for days. Influenza can cause severe illness or even death in people such as the very young or very old, as well as 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 the flu, Quinlisk said. However, the state health agency conducts year-round influenza surveillance through the Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network. That indicates which types of influenza viruses are circulating and how widespread the illness is.
(Times health reporter Deirdre Cox Baker contributed to this report.)