DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Public Health reports the number of flu deaths in Iowa continues to increase.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Ann Garvey says six new deaths were reported in the last week. “This year we’ve had 20 deaths total — one was unfortunately in a child. It’s just an unfortunate reminder that Iowans need to be taking steps to prevent themselves from becoming ill,” Garvey says.

She says you can take one big step to keep yourself from getting the flu. “The most important thing that people can do is to get vaccinated,” according to Garvey. “if you’ve not been vaccinated yet, you still should get vaccinated, it’s not too late.” Doctor Garvey says the warm up and melting snow is not an indication the flu season is coming to an end. “We don’t know yet how much longer the flu season will last — but certainly our surveillance indicators are telling us that activity is continuing and it’s increasing,” Garvey says.

There were 270 flu deaths in the last flu season, but doctor Garvey says it is tough to make a comparison this year until the season is finally done.
“When we compare the numbers of deaths reported at the end of the season this year to last year, we are down quite a bit. It was a very severe season last year,” Garvey says. “But again, that said, we are right in the midst of things, and so we can’t draw too many conclusions from where we stand at this point.”

You may think you can escape the flu by heading out of state for spring break. Garvey says that isn’t the case. “Especially if you are going to be in closed confined spaces like airplanes or other modes of travel, that might increase your risk of getting flu, it’s especially important that you get vaccinated,” Garvey explains. “Even if you are going to a warmer part of the country or outside of the U.S., it is important that you get your vaccine.”

She says another key thing to remember is — if you get the flu — keep it to yourself. “If you’re sick, we would really like you to stay home. Washing hands is really important. We’re having diarrhea illness right now as well and hand washing is one of the best things you can do to prevent that illness. And then, just covering coughs and sneezes,” Garvey says. “There are other respiratory viruses circulating right now in addition to the flu, and so taking those steps to cover coughs and sneezes are an important way to cut down on transmitting all respiratory viruses.”

Garvey says you should also not take that spring break trip if you are sick, as you risk spreading the flu to a lot of other people.