IOWA CITY — January is typically the worst of the peak months for the flu in Iowa and health officials warn things are shaping up for a particularly severe season for the flu and other respiratory viruses.

Dr. Melanie Wellington, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals, says they’re concerned because the southern hemisphere had a bad flu season. “We use that as an indicator to predict what’s going to happen during our flu season and it suggests that the flu season could be a bad one,” Wellington says, “but that is not a science.”

Iowans are being advised to watch out for what’s called respiratory syncytial virus, or R-S-V. Symptoms are similar to the common cold, but it can cause severe illness — or even death — in young infants, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. Wellington says, “You should seek medical attention if you have a cold this year, where it’s simply not getting better, where your breathing rate goes very high, where someone’s struggling to breathe, grunting or having troubles with their oxygen levels.”

R-S-V affects between ten and 20-percent of the state’s population each year. Wellington says the best way to prevent R-S-V is by regularly washing your hands. She notes, it’s still not too late to get a flu shot. While flu cases often show up during October and November, the peak months are December through February, though cases are sometimes reported as late as May.