A woman with a cold or allergy wiping or blowing her nose.

Four deaths from influenza, which occurred in one week in all regions of Iowa, worried health officials so much that the Iowa Department of Public Health issued a warning on Friday.

"Flu deaths rise in Iowa," the department announced, showing six people, total, have died from the highly contagious illness.

"There is still time to get vaccinated; get one this weekend," said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist.

Four of six deaths, overall, were reported in eastern Iowa, with one in the northeast, two in the southeast and one in the east. The average age of those who died was 86, and three of them had underlying conditions that made it more likely they would die from influenza.

"These deaths are a sad reminder that influenza hits the very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems," Quinlisk said.

It's also not the time to visit others in hospitals or long-term care facilities, if feeling unwell. Both Genesis Health System and the Unity Point Health Trinity organization issued requests on Jan. 1 to ask that only healthy people make visits to local hospitals.

Symptoms, the doctor said, often start with a spiked temperature. "I always tell people, if you have symptoms above the neck, alone, that's probably a cold," she said.

But below the neck, with symptoms like overall pain, a loss of appetite, and high fever; that is probably the flu and it means a person should stay home and recover.

Vaccines are available in local doctor's offices, and various retail outlets. In general, influenza spikes in Iowa in late January and early February.

But the illness rate is now "widespread" throughout the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta

The recent weather, and the holidays, meant that many families spent time together, indoors. This helps spread respiratory illnesses, Quinlisk said, such as rhinovirus, enterovirus, coronavirus, and Respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, in children.

The lack of humidity indoors causes mucus membranes to dry out in humans, and that makes it easier for germs to access a body, the doctor said.

Ways to combat that is to drink plenty of liquids, and use humidifiers. Or, keep plants in the house and water them regularly, or take showers and leave the bathroom doors open.

The doctor said her mother, years ago, used to boil water on the stove, and put cinnamon inside to scent the air a bit. "You just need to keep up humidity levels," she said. Suggested are 30-50 percent humidity levels in the winter.

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