While no influenza deaths are report in Iowa yet this season, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health says it likely won’t be long. Epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk says the number of Iowans being hospitalized with the flu doubled in the past week and she’s becoming alarmed, as there have been several flu fatalities in other states nearby, including a few in Minnesota.

“It’s just a matter of time before we start seeing people dying of the flu here in Iowa,” Dr. Quinlisk says. “Since we have the H1N1 strain going around, and that’s a strain that hits children particularly hard, it may be that we start seeing children getting very sick and perhaps even dying again this year, like we did last year. It’s really important that we get those school-age children vaccinated.”

She says surveillance by state health officials found three separate strains of flu are continuing to be found in Iowa this season.

“We know that all three are circulating and what that means for Iowans is that you could actually get the flu three different times,” Quinlisk says. “Unfortunately, even if you get the flu with one of them, it gives you no immunity to the other two, in fact, it may actually make you more susceptible to getting really sick with the other two.”

She says all three of the strains are covered by the vaccine, but that won’t do any good for people who haven’t gotten the shot. Quinlisk says the numbers of flu cases have been about average compared to previous years, at least until the past several days.

“We know that once people get back from holidays, once kids start going back to school, we usually start seeing things really take off and a lot more activity,” Quinlisk says. “In fact, in this last week, our number of people being hospitalized has doubled. We know that activity is really starting to take off so we really want those people to go in and get vaccinated now.”

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, she says. While it may take several days to become fully effective, Quinlisk says getting vaccinated now should protect you from the bug well through the winter.