DES MOINES, Iowa -- On Friday, Iowa recorded its first flu-related death of the season. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), it was a middle-aged eastern Iowa man.
While he did have underlying conditions or contributing factors, the IDPH say this is an unfortunate reminder to take the flu seriously, as numbers of flu cases increase across the state and the country.
The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the flu is now widespread in 24 states. While Iowa isn't one of them, the IDPH says the level of activity is increasing.
"We're seeing it a little bit more regional is what we will call it, and we're seeing a little bit more of an increase in that kind of influenza-like illness,” IDPH Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati.
Pedati says the flu is now reported in every region of the state. The CDC’s national activity map shows Iowa's number of influenza-like illnesses are crawling up the charts. In the week before Christmas, Iowa was seeing minimal activity. Now in the latest week, its moved up to low activity level.
"The level of activity we have at this point is actually a little bit lower than what we saw at the same point last year,” Pedati said. “That's probably because compared to last year, we already know in both Iowa and nationally, we've had more people take the vaccine."
This is true for the Polk County Health Department which provides vaccinations at their walk-in clinic throughout the flu season.
"What we have noticed in the last couple of weeks, is we've seen an increase in numbers in flu vaccines,” Nola Aigner, the Public Information Officer for the Polk County Health Department.
While almost half of the U.S. population gets a flu vaccination annually, the CDC says the impact of influenza remains high.
"We see the young, we see the very old, individuals who are healthy, individuals who have chronic illnesses who become hospitalized and die every year from the flu. So it's really important people come out and get the flu shot,” Aigner said.
If you haven't yet, the good news is they say it's not too late. But get the flu shot sooner rather than later, since the vaccine can take up to two weeks to fully help protect the body. This year, Pedati says the vaccine is doing well against the virus strain.
"It does seem to be a pretty good match, but it's important to know that even in years when the flu vaccine is not a perfect match it still gives your immune system a little bit of a lesson of how to fight these viruses,” Pedati said.