Influenza AH1 strain is currently one of the most common types of flu virus being seen across the U.S. this season, says Pam Bogue with Buena Vista County Public Health. This year it has hit some regions of Iowa particularly hard, especially a 17 county region including BV County. The influenza outbreak was considered regional earlier in the winter, but Bogue says Iowa is among 24 states now listed as having "widespread" influenza rates, with diagnoses primarily in school age and college age individuals. Flu in Iowa typically peaks in mid-February, but this year new cases are still coming in March. Bogue says that diagnoses should start to dwindle by the time springlike weather nears.
For infants, the elderly and those with reduced immune systems, flu can be more than uncomfortable. About 36,000 people in the United States die from influenza every year, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that 98 percent of the flu samples that had been sent in for AH1 strain of Influenza A were showing resistance to TamiFlu - a medication given to treat flu symptoms and prevent further infection.
"An annual vaccination is the best way to prevent it," Bogue says. Keeping hands washed also helps keep people healthy.
Wendi Coheley, Clinic Manager at Trimark Family Clinic in Storm Lake says in late January and early February the clinic saw at least 10 to 12 patients, primarily children, coming in with positive diagnoses with influenza.
"This is not a huge number but the flu vaccine was pretty good to cover flu this year," she says.
About 15 patients have had confirmed cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which is common in infants and young children. The number of RSV and flu patients they see coming in is now starting to dwindle, Coheley says.
Jeannie Schwarzkopf, nurse at Storm Lake High School who also goes over the North and West Elementary, says in the last several weeks she's been seeing on average of about 10 students a day in her office at the high school with primarily upper respiratory symptoms. Schwarzkopf says some have also come in complaining of tiredness, headaches and body aches.
Schwarzkopf says often students sent home will typically return within a day or two, however, may spike a fever again after returning. Schwarzkopf says although it's important to get the students healthy again and prevent others from getting sick, it's their goal to keep the students who feel well enough in school, as long as they don't have a fever, diarrhea or are vomiting. "Sometimes we all may not feel 100 percent but we still do it (work, go to school)," says Schwarzkopf.
Sandy Wells, SL middle school nurse who also visits East and South Elementary says they've seen plenty of illness, typically upper respiratory symptoms as well but says they haven't seen anything too alarming. "They (absenses) haven't been real out of line just yet," she says. Wells says when 10 percent of the student population is absent is when they have to report numbers to the State. However, Wells and Schwarzkopf says numbers have stayed below that mark so far this season.
Alta School nurse Brenda Halverson says she began seeing more students in February than she saw in the months of December and January and says students were coming in with respiratory symtoms and symptoms that were longer lasting than usual this season. Halverson said although they did see some intestinal symptoms in students, more of the cases seen were respiratory.
Health officials say symptoms of cold and flu viruses and pneumonia can often be confused.
Coheley says those with a flu virus will come down with a fever and will experience extreme tiredness. Bogue adds other symtoms may include a headache, aches and pains which can become severe, fatique and weakness, chills and chest discomfort. Unlike a cold symptoms of the flu can come on within a matter of hours whereas cold symtoms tend to be more gradual.
Bogue says a fever and headache is less common with a cold but individuals might experience slight body aches. Coheley says instead of feeling extreme tiredness those suffering with a cold will typically will just feel a little more run down than usual. A sore throat, cough and runny nose is also associated with the common cold.
Pneumonia often occurs after the cold or flu and resembles both illnesses. It requires a physician visit to obtain proper treatment. Pneumonia may start with a cough (dry or productive depending on which organism is infecting you) but may include shaking chills, high fever, sweating, chest pain, muscle pain, and fatigue. You may become short of breath. Pneumonia is especially dangerous for patients who are elderly, who are undergoing chemotherapy, who are taking steroids or other medications that suppress the immune system, or who are suffering from alcoholism or an injury.
Winter months may also see an increase in gastroenteritis or the "stomach flu," and strep throat. Illnesses spread rapidly, as people are generally confined to closed indoor spaces.
Coheley says it's important for individuals to remember to get an adequate amount of sleep every night, wash hands regularly, drink plenty of water and avoid close contact with those who are sick if possible. Coheley says there are over the counter medicines and cough supressents that can help ease flu symtoms however recommends seeing a doctor if a fever progresses. Covering your mouth when you cough and properly disposing of used tissue also help prevent spreading illness.
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