Influenza strikes NE Iowa
Jan 15, 2013 (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Taking precautions may not be enough to escape this year's aggressive influenza season.
Pamela Bellows' fourth-grade students began working on a sickness prevention campaign shortly after Thanksgiving at Lincoln Elementary School.
The slogan "Beat the Germs" is plastered on a stack of posters, along with a QR-code that when scanned with a cell phone links to their two-minute YouTube video.
Students are providing tips to keep their community healthy. They performed skits for kindergartners and plan to hang messages around town.
"We wipe our desk off and wipe all the tables and counters off," Lauren Byers reported.
"The water fountain," Brendan Moody, 10, continued.
"Everything except for the floor," Brigitte Kern added.
But on Monday, the number of empty desks was evidence the school has been hit. Hard. Principal Deb Beving said about 85 of the school's 539 students -- nearly 16 percent -- were absent.
That's up from Friday, when the total rose into the 50s. Twenty-three of those were from the third grade alone.
"It's got most of our class," announced Isaac Nissen. "It's coming from down the hall."
His class of 26 had an additional three kids absent Monday, leaving total of 12 gone.
"We've been doing everything right, so I'm like, 'Why did everyone get sick '" Bellows, their teacher, pondered. "I sanitized the room twice on Friday."
Across the state, nation
Widespread flu activity is being reported across the state and most of the nation.
"This is without a doubt harder, more pervasive seasonal influenza than we've seen for several years," said Bruce Meisinger, director of the Black Hawk County Health Department.
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that affects mainly the nose, throat, chest and lungs. In the very young, elderly and those with other serious medical conditions, infection can lead to severe complications and even death.
Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches.
Sharon Holdiman, director of health services and nursing at Friendship Village in Waterloo, said the licensed nursing home portion in the 600 Park Lane building of the retirement community has been quarantined since Jan. 6, which is not uncommon this time of year. That means no outside visitors, and residents stay inside unless they need treatment or hospitalization.
Of the 39 residents there, about half have had varying degrees of the upper respiratory flu over the past week to 10 days, she said.
"Compared to last year, we've definitely seen more cases," Holdiman said.
All residents who currently have the flu have been vaccinated, although "when you have people in the age range we have, and they have a lot of other health issues, they're obviously more prone to the flu developing and it being a more significant event for them," she said.
"The flu shot I'm sure has helped them from not getting as sick as they might have," she added.
Meisinger said the major strains circulating are represented within the vaccine, which is estimated to about 61 percent effective.
"That may not seem like an extraordinarily high rate, but that means you have a 61 percent greater likelihood of avoiding the influenza or, if you do get influenza, for it to be milder."
Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo started seeing flu cases the week of Nov. 4 and experienced the first spike a couple of weeks later with 26 confirmed cases.
"Since then, we have maintained a higher level of cases," spokesman Dana Derflinger said.
As of Thursday, the hospital was up to 153 positive lab tests.
Allen Hospital's emergency room in Waterloo has been seeing at least 20 flu patients a day since Christmas, according to spokesman Jim Waterbury.
"While that number is significant, we are not yet seeing the same amount of flu being reported in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines," he said.
However, many emergency room patients are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms, which include vomiting and diarrhea, mistakenly referred to as the flu. That illness also has struck a number of Allen providers including doctors and nurses.
Allen's entire staff is required to be vaccinated for influenza annually.
Vaccines still available
Flu vaccine is still available locally. If a provider has run out, call around, Meisinger said.
Hy-Vee Crossroads ordered a single batch of 600 at the beginning of the season and ran out in November, said pharmacy technician Courtney Kleese.
The county health department is encouraging health systems to coordinate to make sure those that don't have an adequate supply can get more.
"Late last week we were told it is possible that within a couple of days or ordering it, the distributors of vaccine can still deliver," he said. "The nationwide supply may become more problematic week by week as the flu season persists and continues."
Influenza, which typically peaks in February or March, has reached that level early. Time will tell whether that means the disease will linger or subside after a week or two, he said.
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