Let's be careful out there

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's been a long, cold, tough winter. Beginning in early December and seemingly unrelenting until this weekend, the snow, ice and cold have driven many indoors for months.

There's something else that has kept many indoors this winter: the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year's flu season is getting worse. You may have noticed more of your co-workers or classmates coming down with the illness recently.

The CDC reports that infections from an unexpected strain have been booming, and now that string is the main agent behind most of the nation's lab-confirmed flu cases. This year's flu vaccine doesn't work against this particular strain.

The CDC isn't sounding off any alarms. The number of reported flu cases and flu deaths is similar to last year. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is investigating a cluster of approximately 20 pediatric deaths which have occurred across the state between December 2007 through the end of February 2008.The deaths have all occurred in children younger than four years of age.

Most of the children had mild to severe respiratory symptoms prior to death. Multiple viruses have been isolated in laboratory tests, including influenza A and B, adenoviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV). It is important to note that it is unknown at this time if these viral infections were the principal cause of death. This number of deaths is higher than expected for this time of the year, which is why health officials are investigating.

Some clinics are still giving the flu vaccine. While this year's edition may be flawed, it still should provide protection for many and the flu season might continue into May.

Until then, some common-sense precautions can help. Things like keeping your children away from people with respiratory diseases or symptoms, keeping sick kids home from school, keeping yourself home if you are ill, frequent handwashing and avoiding situations where large numbers of people gather, because some may be ill can help cut down your risk of getting the flu.

We all are anxiously awaiting the return of spring. There is nothing worse than having the flu, so take care of yourself and the ones you love.