While the level of influenza activity in the Quad-Cities is low, health officials see cause for concern as the holiday season arrives.
“We certainly will have at least a typical flu season, if not a bad flu season, in the state,” said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health in Des Moines. Quinlisk also is an epidemiologist, an expert on how a disease such as the flu is caused, spread and controlled.
The state is at the “regional” level for influenza now, meaning cases of it can be found across Iowa, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, or CDC.
Illinois also is at the regional level, with flu activity seen mainly in Chicago and the rest of Cook County.
In Iowa’s 21 sentinel hospitals, there have been 49 hospitalizations because of the flu so far this year, compared with only eight at this time in 2012, Quinlisk said.
Additionally, there have been 378 confirmed cases of influenza from Iowa’s sentinel system to date, compared with only 10 last year.
The sentinel system watches for and tracks cases of a disease.
So far this school year, 23 schools have reported more than 10 percent of their student body out sick on the same day, compared with only eight such instances at this time in 2012, Quinlisk said.
The Quad-City area seems to have a lower level of flu activity. At clinics operated by Trinity Regional Health System, only two cases have been diagnosed so far, said Alison Beardsley, the director of clinic operations.
“We really are not seeing too much at the clinics, but we are getting calls on potential flu-like symptoms,” she said.
But the activity level seems to be picking up, and that’s a shift from last year’s experience. Overall, 2012-13 was a mild flu season around the country.
“There’s been an uptick in Illinois in recent weeks,” agreed Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield. “We typically don’t see this level of activity at this point in the flu season.”
The CDC is predicting a bad year for flu and Iowa officials are “pretty much” in agreement with that, Quinlisk said. All three strains of influenza that are present this year are circulating in the state. Happily, though, this year’s flu vaccine provides protection against all three strains.
“We want to encourage people to go out and get a flu shot. It’s not too late for it,” Quinlisk said.
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Plenty of flu vaccine remains available, said Michele Cullen, the community health manager for Genesis Health System. “It’s better to get a vaccination and protect yourself and those around you from contracting the flu,” she added.
Cullen, who manages the Genesis Flu-Free Quad-Cities program, said inoculations were given this fall to children in 71 schools in Clinton, Scott and Rock Island counties. That involved 8,000 students, or about 36 percent of the school-age population in the area.
Cullen points out that many children get vaccinated at their family physician’s office.
“Hopefully that’s another 36 percent of that population,” she said.
Quinlisk said she hopes everyone older than 6 months recieves the vaccine. Pregnant women who are vaccinated also protect their unborn babies, she said, pointing out that all people who will be around infants should be vaccinated as well to provide a “cocoon” of protection.
It’s important to vaccinate the school-age population because that prevents them from getting the flu and then giving it to very young and elderly people with whom they are in contact. The youngest and oldest members of the population are the most at risk for serious flu complications.