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Early numbers indicate Iowa will have a severe flu season

Experts say early numbers indicate a severe flu season this year.
Kelly Sikkema
Experts say early numbers indicate a severe flu season this year.

Health experts say early numbers indicate Iowa is in for a severe flu season this year.

In a media call on Monday, Theresa Brennan, the chief medical officer for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said last week, UIHC diagnosed more than 150 cases of the flu.

"In general, we wouldn't start to see these numbers until into December," she said. "So it is early, and when we see early spread, we worry that it's going to be higher spread."

Last year, Brennan said the flu season was very mild, and UIHC has just one lab-confirmed case of the flu.

She said that's because more people were wearing masks and socially distancing because of the pandemic, but that's not the case this year.

"We're just not seeing people masking like they were," she said. "And I also worry that because the flu season was so mild last year that people may not be getting vaccinated like they have in previous years."

Brennan said she's concerned a more severe flu season could further strain the state's health care system, which is already dealing with a high rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

She said flu infections could cause health care workers to miss work at a time when the industry is experiencing high levels of worker burnout.

"Our workers have been doing this for almost two years now, and just this keeps coming," she said.

"Not to mention the fact that there's also a shortage of workers now people are retiring earlier, people are changing jobs, people are leaving."

Brennan said all eligible Iowans to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19, which can be done at the same time.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter