Mild Season Might Not Be The Case for This Year's Flu

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By Ellen Kurt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - It’s difficult to know if the late and mild flu season of 2011-2012 will carry over into this season.

With influenza already circulating in Iowa, deputy state epidemiologist Ann Garvey said it’s better to not take any chances and get a flu shot soon.

“We know there is some flu in our state,” Garvey said Wednesday. “So now is the time to get vaccinated.”

Flu shot clinics are under way in Eastern Iowa and the shots also are offered at a growing number of pharmacies.

Most health insurance covers the shots, which cost about $25.

Garvey said this season’s vaccine appears to be a good match for the flu strains in circulation: two influenza As and an influenza B virus.

Year-round surveillance that began three years ago may be the reason health officials are seeing flu earlier, she noted.

Last season, cases didn’t escalate until March - Iowa’s flu season typically peaks in late January or early February – and the season as a whole remained mild.

“I think it just varies year-to-year,” Garvey said. “It’s kind of hard to predict.”

Symptoms of flu include respiratory problems, high fever, sore throat and cough.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly half of Iowans – 47.9 percent – were vaccinated last season, compared to 41.8 percent nationwide.

Garvey noted that the CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older receive the vaccine annually.

The elderly and pregnant women are among groups most at risk from the flu.

Based on CDC estimates of 36,000 flu-attributed deaths annually, Garvey said Iowa would have about 300 deaths every year, directly attributed to the flu.

“However, these figures likely do not account for deaths related to secondary infections or when seasonal influenza aggravates an existing chronic illness,” she said.

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