Illness incidence rates in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks the rate of flu throughout the U.S. Iowa has a lower rate than 40 other states, including Illinois, where the disease is considered "widespread" now.

Aimee Behnke is in her fourth day of missing work because of illness. That's Dr. Behnke, a pediatrician with Genesis Health Group in Bettendorf.

Behnke, who is pregnant, is suffering with what she describes as a "flu-like" illness as opposed to actual influenza. It's the "usual winter stuff," she said Monday.

The doctor has plenty of company. A lot of viral and bacterial infections — including the influenza virus — are going around the Quad-City area just now, and doctors' offices are busy with illnesses related to the stomach, throat and respiratory system. In children, it's known as RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.

Davenport hospitals in the Genesis Health System have reported an unusually high number of patient admissions, spokesman Craig Cooper said. Those are from respiratory and flu-like illnesses, he added.

At the UnityPoint Health Trinity Express Care clinic on John Deere Road in Moline, there's been a spike in the number of influenza cases. There have been 68 positive influenza tests for the disease so far in January, compared with 50 positive tests in all of December, said Erin Platt, a spokeswoman for the health system.

Flu-like illnesses also are being reported at the Genesis Convenient Care Clinic in Bettendorf, but there also are many instances of gastrointestinal-related viruses turning up, said Dr. Rob Mixsell, a physician the clinic. 

The illnesses are typical for the wintertime, he said, but he noticed the rate of such cases began increasing during the holidays, a few weeks earlier than usual.

"So it did hit a bit early this year, but it's not been as bad as I've seen in previous years," he said.

For the most part, these are cases of strep throat, which is caused by a bacterial infection and can be treated with antibiotics. There also are cases of gastroenteritis, which include vomiting and diarrhea as symptoms, Mixsell said. 

Many people label gastroenteritis the "stomach flu," but that is a misnomer, the doctor said. It is really a stomach virus, and there's not much medicine can do to help.

"It just runs its course," Mixsell said.

Strep throat is more common in younger people, "but people of any age can get it," he said.

Mixsell thinks the number of patients at his clinic will stay high for a while.

"We'll most likely be busy another month or so," he said.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, Iowa's state epidemiologist and the medical director of the Department of Public Health in Des Moines, said this is just the beginning of the flu season.

"Numbers are just now starting to go up, so people should not think this is the end," she said.

Quinlisk suggests that anyone who has not yet had a flu vaccination should get one.

"It will protect you most of the flu season," she said, noting that cases of the flu will still be found in March and maybe during April as well.

The common viruses going around now are milder than the flu and would not require hospitalization or pose the threat of death in most instances, she said.

But the flu is a serious virus that can be especially deadly for the very young and those older than 65 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, says the rate of flu incidence is "regional" in Iowa and eight other states. There is a higher, or "widespread," rate of incidence in Illinois and 40 other states.

"Our flu incidence rate hasn't gone up as fast as some of our neighbors' has," Quinlisk said of Iowa.

The CDC put out an advisory Friday stating that the H1NI flu virus is causing a lot of illness across America. Cases of the flu and flu-related cases are up, and there have been 20 deaths involving pediatric cases in the U.S.

One pediatric death was recorded in Iowa, health officials announced two weeks ago. Details have not been made available because of privacy requirements.

The number of states that reported high numbers of influenza-like-illness cases fell from 20 to 14 last week, the CDC reported, but the number of states with "widespread" flu activity grew by four.