Influenza activity across Iowa has been unusually high this year and state health officials are expecting even more people will be sickened without proper prevention techniques over the holidays.
Doctor Patricia Quinlisk is medical director at the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Always, during the holidays when you have people traveling, sitting next to people on trains, busses and airplanes – or just having big gatherings with family and friends – all of that allows flu to spread much more easily,” Quinlisk says. “We do typically – right after the Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year’s holidays – see spikes in our cases of influenza and a lot of other diseases.”
Although it can be a difficult decision to skip holiday gatherings, Quinlisk advises sick people to stay home rather than put relatives and friends at risk. “If you have a family member who is sick, maybe don’t force them to come to the Christmas table or if they’re sick over New Year’s Eve, don’t encourage them to go to a party even thought if they’re not feeling well,” Quinlisk says. “That’s a time to stay home and keep all those bugs to yourself and not spread your viruses.”
Iowans are encouraged to protect themselves from the flu by getting the vaccine. Quinlisk says all three strains of the seasonal flu have been confirmed in Iowa this season and all are covered by the vaccine.
In addition to a flu shot, another key to avoid getting sick is practicing good hygiene. “It’s something as simple as just making sure you wash with soap and water for about 20 seconds after you use the restroom,” Quinlisk says. “Certainly if you’re around people who are coughing and sneezing you might want to wash your hands a little bit more often. The cleaner we keep our hands, the less likely we are to pick up a bug from a door knob or something like that and inoculate ourselves by touching our nose.”
State health officials report the number of influenza associated hospitalizations in Iowa has doubled in the past week. Children are also being hit hard by influenza; the number of schools reporting flu outbreaks this season is 64, compared to only 10 at this time last season.