The flu season appears to be off to an early start in Iowa, as the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) today announced testing by the State Hygienic Laboratory (SHL) has identified three cases of influenza in the state. While influenza activity remains at a low level, the identification of the first flu cases of the season indicates the virus is circulating in the state.

Iowa Image/National Atlas of the United States
Image/National Atlas of the United States

The flu cases announced today are in Henry, Johnson and Polk counties.

“It’s understandable the public has been watching coverage of the Ebola outbreak and is concerned about that infectious disease,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “While Ebola is grabbing headlines, we need to remember it is the flu that poses the highest risk to the health of Iowans. We estimate an average of 300,000 Iowans get the flu every year and together, flu and its complication of pneumonia cause an average of 1,000 deaths yearly in Iowa. There is no vaccine for Ebola, but there are several good vaccines for the flu. The most effective way to prevent influenza illness and death is the yearly flu vaccine.”

IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months of age and older. It’s especially important to be vaccinated if you have regular contact with people more vulnerable to the complications of flu, including babies, children with asthma, and the elderly. IDPH also recommends pregnant women be vaccinated to protect themselves, and to pass on some immunity to their baby.

Related: Flu season 2014-2015: Flu vaccine composition, dosage and availability

The flu is a serious respiratory illness caused by viruses. The flu comes on suddenly and symptoms may include fever, headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Illness typically lasts two to seven days, and often puts healthy people in bed for days. Influenza may cause severe illness or even death in people such as the very young or very old, or those who have underlying health conditions.

Related: Iowa reports big increases in cryptosporidium, shigella, Lyme disease and syphilis in 2013