Flu continues to be widespread across the United States, but the worst of the season may be over.
For the week ending Feb. 17, Iowa reported fewer outpatient visits and school absences for flu-like illnesses.
“Nationally it’s already peaked and it’s coming down according to the weekly reports,” said Desiree Callison, infection prevention nurse at Greater Regional Medical Center. “We’ve already hit our peak, and, actually, this week is significantly below last week, and significantly less than it has been the entire season. But for Union County, I think we’ve also hit our peak. I think last week and the week before was our peak. Just from the numbers that I gather, this week hasn’t been as bad.”
The flu vaccine is still the best way to protect against the flu, but people who have had the vaccine may still get the flu, but their symptoms will be less severe and will not last as long. Doctors may recommend Tamiflu for someone who tests positive for flu, but Tamiflu comes with a long list of side effects and is very expensive, Callison said.
“Tamiflu actually will only reduce your symptoms by about 24 hours,” Callison said. “If you are a healthy individual, it’s not necessarily something that you have to take to get better. Tamiflu is something they’re going to suggest for people who had a lot of comorbidities or other illnesses or are taking care of the very elderly or the very young.”
The flu is spread by droplets of moist air, usually expelled when a person coughs. A person may not know they are sick and could still be spreading the illness to people close by. Frequent hand washing and maintaining a clean work area are two key components to limiting the spread of the illness. Common symptoms of the flu are a dry cough, fever above 100 degrees and general aches and pains.
“You should stay home until you do not have a fever for over 24 hours and you have not taken medications to reduce it,” Callison said. “That’s the biggest thing. A lot of people all still come to work, even though they’re sick. They need a stay home because they are just infecting other people, which is just causing more people to stay home and work isn’t getting done.”
Iowa had 157 flu-related deaths, three times higher than the same time last year, making the 2018 flu season the worst since the swine flu outbreak in 2009.
Nationwide, deaths related to the flu are at epidemic levels, according to the latest information provided by the Centers for Disease Control, but also appear to be declining. Data compiled using the cause of death listed on death certificates shows that 9.5 percent of deaths in the week ending Feb. 3 were flu related, down from 9.8 percent the week ending Jan. 27.
“It’s not over yet,” Callison added. “Flu season doesn’t end until March.”