An elderly Central Iowa woman is the Hawkeye State’s first flu-related death of the 2016-2017 influenza season, according to state health officials. The woman reportedly had underlying health conditions.

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

While flu activity has been low so far in Iowa,  Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, says this death is an indication that flu can be a serious illness. “This death is an unfortunate reminder the flu virus does have the potential to cause severe illness and death, especially in the very young, very old, or those who have underlying health conditions.”

The flu vaccine is the best defense against getting influenza. It’s especially important to be protected during the holiday season, when friends and family are likely to travel or gather for meals and parties, making it more likely to spread illness around. This week offers a good opportunity to drop by the many places that offer flu vaccinations. College students are returning home, elementary and high school kids are starting their winter break, and shoppers are finishing up their holiday lists. IDPH recommends that while out and about this week, Iowans take a quick break to get their flu vaccination. It will protect them and their friends and loved ones from illness.

It’s also important to remember the 3Cs: Cover your coughs and sneezes; Clean your hands frequently; and Contain germs by staying home when ill. Besides vaccination, handwashing is the single best way to prevent the spread of illness.

The flu is a 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. The ‘stomach bug’ which causes diarrhea and vomiting is not caused by the influenza virus, but usually by norovirus; thus, the flu vaccine will not protect you against this illness.