DES MOINES — Public health officials in Iowa are turning their attention away from flu cases and toward disease-transmitting ticks and mosquitoes while keeping a watchful eye out for measles outbreaks.
State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati said the influenza season has slowed to sporadic and should be over by month’s end but not before claiming 79 lives, including one pediatric flu-related death.
“I do expect to see a drop off in the coming weeks,” she noted.
Last year, 272 Iowans died due to influenza, so “thankfully this was a less-severe flu season,” Pedati told members of the state Board of Health on Wednesday.
The flu is a respiratory illness caused by viruses.
With the onset of spring weather, warmer weather and more outdoor activities, she said, the focus shifts to vector-borne diseases — with special attention going to the West Nile virus after 2018 when Iowa saw the second-highest number of cases since the mosquito-borne virus was identified in Iowa in 2002.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported at least 73 cases of West Nile virus were under investigation — the most since 147 cases in 2003.
Most people who become infected with West Nile virus do not develop any symptoms, she said, but about one in five infected people will develop a fever along with other symptoms such as headache, body aches, joint pains and rash.
It is recommended that Iowans use insect repellent with DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 as well as avoiding outdoor activities at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active. They are advised to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes and socks outdoors whenever possible and eliminate standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
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While some states are dealing with measles cases that have reached 764 nationwide, Pedati said Iowa’s count for the very contagious virus stands at two — both in the same northeastern Iowa household. Testing by the State Hygienic Lab confirmed that first case of measles infection was for an individual who was unvaccinated and recently returned from Israel, where measles transmission is occurring.
The second person was a household contact of the first person with the infection.
Those marked the first cases of measles in Iowa since 2011.
Health officials said there was no current threat to the general public.
Pedati said the cases serve as a reminder for all Iowans to ensure their vaccinations are up-to-date because the MMR vaccine prevents diseases and save lives.
“It’s so critically important to maintain the use of a good preventive tool and that’s the MMR vaccine,” she told the state board, noting that one dose is highly effective in up to 94 percent of vaccinations and that number climbs to 97 percent with two doses.
“We know that this is going to be an ongoing issue for a little while and we want to make sure that people know who to go to for good information,” added Pedati.
“We want everybody to be protected and we want people to understand that the reason is because there are places in the world where this is ongoing, and the potential to import it into vulnerable populations is exactly what we’ve seen in places like New York, Michigan and California.”