By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
Residents and organizations are making changes to protect themselves from the unusually intense flu season.
As the flu has become widespread across the country with high levels in Iowa, health experts are encouraging people to get flu shots, before the vaccine runs out. From shaking hands at church to shaking hands with a new acquaintance, the flu is affecting community and business settings.
“It’s really more of a problem amongst adults in the county right now,” Community Health Manager Michele Cullen said. “It is really affecting our business environment.”
Influenza activity in Iowa is high and remains widespread and Clinton County is no exception. For the first week of January, the State Hygienic Laboratory confirmed a total of 114 cases of seasonal influenza across the state, including 65 influenza A (H3), one influenza A (2009 H1N1), 34 influenza A, and 14 influenza B. Health officials, like Cullen, are encouraging people to refrain from simple things like shaking hands at church until things have settled down.
As vaccine shortages are announced across the country, residents are encouraged to get the flu shot before it is too late. Clinton County currently has a shortage of vaccines for adults, but still plenty for children. Although even the vaccine does not guarantee a flu-free season.
“We have seen some cases of individuals that have received the influenza vaccination still get sick,” Mercy Medical Center Infection Preventionist Jeff Sander-Welzien said. “Although those who have been vaccinated tend to have much milder symptoms and recover quicker than those who haven’t.”
The efficacy of the influenza vaccine is high as it pertains to preventing serious illness, such as hospitalizations and death, but about 60 to 85 percent effective in preventing all symptoms of the flu. The efficacy of the vaccine can also vary by patient’s age, health, previous vaccine/disease history.
“The flu vaccine is the best tool we have to prevent influenza,” Sander-Welzien said. “However, the answer is ‘yes,’ we expect some people who have been vaccinated to get the flu and have some symptoms, but we don’t expect very many of them to have serious, life threatening illnesses.”
Across the state, the proportion of outpatient visits due to influenza-like illness remains high at 5.5 percent and was well above the regional baseline of 2.1 percent. The number of influenza-associated hospitalizations reported from sentinel hospitals was 141 (480 for the season so far), which is three times higher than the typical influenza seasons.
Two influenza outbreaks were reported from the long term care facilities and one school reported 10 percent or greater absenteeism due to flu-like symptoms during the first week of the year. Several small private schools in Scott County have reported 10 percent or greater absenteeism, but Clinton County schools haven’t seen as high activity, according to Cullen.
“Our vaccination programs at the schools went very well, so that could have helped with keeping the flu down in our area,” Cullen said. “We are seeing it more in adults this year.”
Those at high risk for flu include children and infants, pregnant women, seniors, people with disabilities, people with health conditions and travelers and people living abroad.
Sander-Welzien and Cullen recommend using common sense when dealing with flu like symptoms.
“Remember to wash your hands, cover your cough and stay home if you are sick,” Cullen said.
Flu season typically goes until the end of March.