The Iowa Department of Public Health says the number kids missing school has doubled in the last week in a wave of sickness that appears to be caused by the flu. State epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk says this isn’t an ordinary outbreak. Quinlisk says influenza doesn’t normally hit school-age children that hard, but there are indications this is going to be a bad year for school-age kids. Quinlisk says they’re urging parents to get their kids vaccinated.

Some 20 counties have reported 10 percent or more of students out with confirmed flu cases or flu-like illness symptoms — but Doctor Quinlisk says the outbreak isn’t isolated to any particular area. Quinlisk says “it appears to be pretty spread out,” and a child anywhere in the state could end up getting the flu. Quinlisk says some of the kids are getting pretty sick and she warns “we have occasionally had deaths in the state from influenza, it’s very rare, but can happen.” Quinlisk says the flu can be easily prevented as there is plenty of flu vaccine available across the state.

Iowa’s weather has been colder recently, keeping the kids inside more. Quinlisk says that could be one contributing factor to the flu. Quinlisk says you’re inside and around people more in the winter, and she says another theory is that our mucous membranes are drier in the winter and more susceptible to the flu. Quinlisk says you can help keep the flu from spreading..

Quinlisk says the biggest thing is if your child is ill, don’t send them to school and let them infect others. Quinlisk says you should also remember there are flu shots and the flu mist if your child does not like shots. Quinlisk says the flu usually comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should contact their physician immediately.

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Audio: Dar Danielson interview of State Epidemiologist 2:22 MP3