BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Despite record levels of flu shots being dispensed in the area and the veracity of the influenza A virus that’s ripped through the area the past three months, it appears Lee County and southeast Iowa weren’t hit as hard as other parts of the state.
According to data from the Lee County Health Department, influenza activity remains high in Iowa and is widespread, but samples from the State Hygenic Laboratory, the main reporting agency in the state’s week-to-week results, 24 schools in the state reported 10 percent or more illnesses at least once during the week. The southeast region, which includes Lee County, reported just two schools in the week ending Feb. 17 and 28 schools since Oct. 1.
Statewide, there have also been 157 influenza-related deaths reported for the whole flu season.
Tom Nelson, pharmacy manager and 18 year employee of Rashid Pharmacy in Fort Madison said it’s easily been the hardest this area has been hit by the flu in his 18 years dispensing medicine.
“I’ve been a pharmacist for 23 years and I’ve never seen it this severe before,” Nelson said.
He said both generic and brand name TamiFlu doses have been very high as well.
“We’ve dispensed over 310 children regiments of TamiFlu capsules in generic form and then about 50 of the name brand, plus 400 doses for adults and children that can swallow the pills. Both brand name and generic were off the charts this year. And that doesn’t count cough syrups so…yeah, it’s been a very busy winter.”
A spokesperson for Hy-Vee’s corporate office said the chain does not disclose the number of flu shots or other flu medications, but agreed that it had been a very busy year.
Nelson said Rashid Pharmacy administered 482 flu shots from Sept. 1 through March 6, but that was down from 600 that were given during the same time period last season. He said most pharmacies are offering the shots as are local health departments so the demand is being spread out more this year.
According to the Iowa State Hygenic Laboratory, the highest age group in influenza A detections was 64 and older with 447 or 48% of all detections. The next highest is 50-64 and 18-24 with both showing 12% of all detections. Age groups 5-17, 25-49 and 0-4 each accounted for 9% of all detections.
Influenza B had similar ratios with the exception of the 5-17 age group, which represented 24% of the detections. 64 and over was the highest with influenza B at 33% of all detections.
The number of schools that were reporting higher than 10% of school absenteeism was led by Region 6, which is the greater Quad Cities area with nine schools reporting in the week ending Feb. 17. That region reported 100 schools with 10% or greater absenteeism since Oct. 1.
According to data from the Fort Madison Community Hospital through the end of last week, there were 339 positive tests for Influenza A and 99 positives for Influenza B for 443 confirmed positives at the hospital. However, when the flu is as prevalent as it was this year, several providers don’t consistently test for the virus and treat the symptoms, so that number could be lower than actual infections.
The hospital gave more than 2,000 influenza tests so far this season and have administered 3,010 vaccines, which includes 520 to FMCH employees/volunteers, which are required as a condition of employment unless otherwise indicated by a physician.
The Center for Disease Control released information that indicated the vaccine effectiveness against illness caused by the Influenza A and B virus was estimated to be 36 percent.
A breakdown shows vaccines to be 25% effective against A (H3N2), 67% effective against A (H1N1), and 42% effective against B strains.
Children aged six months to eight years had considerably higher effectiveness estimates, with 59% against influenza A and B overall and 51% against influenza A(H3N2).
The Iowa Department of Public Health is still recommending influenza vaccination for those who have not yet been vaccinated this season because influenza will likely continue to circulate for several more weeks.