The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reports two people have died from the flu. Department medical director, Patricia Quinlisk, says the death of the two men is part of what’s been an escalation in flu cases.

“For several weeks now we’ve been having small outbreaks of flu and we’ve seen several people hospitalized because of the flu, and now we’ve have had two deaths reported to us from influenza,” Quinlisk says. The two men live in central Iowa and were between 41 and 60 years of age, but no other information has been released because of medical privacy law. Doctor Quinlisk says fatal cases of the flu happen every year.

“Actually flu is in the top ten causes of deaths in Iowa — so unfortunately it is not as rare as we would like it to be,” Quinlisk says. Based upon U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates, an average of 300,000 Iowans get the flu every year and an average of 1,000 die every year from flu or related complications. “You can just get very sick and die of influenza all on its own,” according to Quinlisk. “But often what happens is you get influenza and then it changes to pneumonia. And the pneumonia can be say a bacterial pneumonia that basically takes advantage that you have been quite sick and your lungs have been harmed by the influenza. And then you get pneumonia and the pneumonia ends up killing you.”

Quinlisk says there are many ways to prevent the flu. “Getting the vaccine is the easiest and best step to get. And this year so far, it looks like all of the strains that we are seeing in the Northern Hemisphere are well matched to the strains in the vaccine, so we are anticipating that vaccine will work much better this year,” Quinlisk says.

She says keeping yourself healthy and taking some basic person hygiene steps will help combat the flu. “Keep your hands washed, so that way if you touch a doorknob that somebody say sneezed on or something like that, you’ll get that virus off your hands,” Quinlisk says. She says if you sneeze, do it into your elbow so you don’t spread the virus. And finally, she says if you are sick, don’t go to work and infect everyone else. “That’s not the time to be stoic and go to work even though you’ve got a fever of a 102 — stay home.”

Iowa is one of three states right now that have the highest rates of the flu. The others are Oregon and Rhode Island, but Quinlisk doesn’t think that means much at this point in the flu season.

“Probably it’s not that significant. We might have just had influenza introduced into Iowa a little bit sooner than some of the other states, and we are seeing more spread a little bit quicker. But I think within a month or so all of those other states are going to catch up to us,” Quinlisk says.

For more information about where and what kind of influenza is in Iowa, go to the Health Department’s webpage. Quinlisk says the flu vaccine is readily available and you can contact your health care provider or local health department to find out where the vaccine is available in your community or use the Flu Vaccine Finder at The flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May.