The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 6, 2014

Virus sweeping its way across state

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON Feeling feverish, coughing, sneezing and severe aches and pains in the body are all common symptoms of the influenza virus, but just because the symptoms are there doesn't mean the flu strain is.

However, according to the Iowa Department of Health influenza surveillance network, Iowa recently has been upgraded from regional to widespread flu activity so infection possibility has risen in a little more than a week.

"Right now we're in the middle of the flu season and so far we're doing pretty well because Iowa overall had a low flu rate for the nation until this week," Clinton community health manager Michelle Cullen said. "It looks to me that Northwest Iowa has been hit the hardest and that's good for us but that could just mean that it could take a little longer to get to the eastern side of the state."

In order to monitor the influenza-like illness (ILI) data statewide, the surveillance network averages the amount of school absences because of ILI cases per region.

Of the six regions of the state, region six where Clinton County is located has not reported a single school that has an absentee rate higher than 10 percent which, according to Cullen, is a good statistic to record this time of year.

"Usually by now we've got one or two that exceed that rate. The Northwestern region alone has seven already," Cullen said. "I think the reason our area has not gotten hit as heavily as others is because we have a lot of big campaigns to encourage flu vaccinations."

Those campaigns have pushed area residents to get vaccinated for the influenza virus early in the season to prevent the possible, life-threatening illness.

Several local health care providers, including Wagner Pharmacy in Clinton, offer the flu vaccine to ensure residents are protected.

Since beginning their vaccination season, Wagner has issued more than 200 flu shots to area residents, and although most of those vaccinations come in the fall before the common flu season hits, people may still have a chance to avoid the virus.

"If someone came in and needed one we would give it to them but I don't know what our stock is like right now," Certified Pharmacy Technician Michele Housenga-Leonard said. "We just place an order based on the stock that we went through last year and go from there."

Wagner isn't the only place still issuing influenza vaccines, though. On average people can contact any one of the area's health care facilities and find out where they can still receive a flu shot for the year.

Genesis Health Care's Visiting Nurse Association in Clinton is another location where a flu shot can still be issued, but Cullen said at this point preventative measures may be out of reach.

"It's getting to the point where it's questionable whether (a vaccine) will do a lot of good," Cullen said. "So we're encouraging people to use common sense tactics to prevent the spread of the illness. If you're sick, stay home. Stay home until you've gone 24 hours without a fever. Use proper handwashing techniques; those kinds of things can make a difference."

In addition to those common sense practices, like covering the mouth when coughing or using only one tissue and disposing of it after its use, another way to prevent the spread of the illness is catching the virus early in its progression.

Statistically, people who visit the doctor within one or two days of the first symptoms of the flu experience a shorter length of the illness as opposed to those who wait four or five days.

If the virus is caught in the first stages it can be treated with antiviral medication prescribed by the doctor, but if given a longer time frame, the only option then is to treat the symptoms.

"Unless you get into the doctor the first two days you're really only treating the symptoms" Cullen said. "People will take Tylenol or Ibuprofen to get rid of a fever or an antihistamine to dry up a runny nose but those are just mainly comfort measures."

While those measures of comfort are important to a person's well-being, the important part to remember is to prevent the spread of the flu, an issue that is difficult to contain in a world that's constantly moving.

"I really believe that it starts in one area and spreads just because our society is so mobile," Cullen said. "So I think it's important that we (keep) pushing to get that vaccination out to the public."