State Health Department sees flu spreading much faster this year

MASON CITY — The medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health confirms the flu is spreading much faster than usual this season.

Doctor Caitlin Pedati says there were nearly 700 confirmed flu cases statewide through the end of December, compared to only about 150 a year ago. Dr. Pedati says the state’s flu activity level is compiled by combining all sorts of data from a variety of sources.

“We look at the number of flu lab tests,” Pedati says. “We look at the number of outbreaks in places like long-term care facilities. We look at hospitalization rates. We look at school absences and we look at other viruses that might be circulating and contributing to what we call influenza-like illness.”

At this point a year ago, one Iowan had died from flu complications, but this season, the number is far higher. “We have had 11 flu-associated reported deaths so far, and flu is a serious virus and unfortunately, it can make people quite ill,” Pedati says. “It kills people every year. Nationally, the CDC is reporting 2,900 deaths associated with flu.”

While January and February are typically the peak months, Iowa’s flu activity level is already at its highest point — widespread — but Pedati says there are still simple ways to protect yourself. “Flu is a tough virus and it can make people sick and it can cause deaths every year,” she says. “That’s why getting vaccinated and practicing good public health measures are always going to be important every year, no matter what the flu activity is.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list Iowa among the 34 states where the spread of the flu this season is considered widespread. While the flu numbers are significantly higher this season compared to last year, Pedati notes this season is still tracking below the 2017-2018 season, which was particularly bad.