SIOUX CITY | The number of Iowans hospitalized for the flu is three times higher than usual, state health officials reported Friday, and the proportion of patients being treated for the seasonal virus at clinics is more than twice what it normally would be.
As of Jan. 5, the most recent date for which data are available, hospitals had reported 480 flu-related hospitalizations to the Iowa Health Department for the season. That's three times more than during a typical influenza season. Among outpatient visits, 5.5 percent are due to influenza-like illness, well above the regional baseline of 2.1 percent.
“There’s a lot of sick people out there,” said Tyler Brock, deputy director of Siouxland District Health Department.
So many people are sick or worried about catching the flu that some stores have run out of Tamiflu, a popular prescription antiviral drug, and the flu vaccine.
Jullina Williams, a pharmacy technician at Walgreens, 100 Pierce St., said the store has Tamiflu caplets but ran out of the syrup three weeks ago and has mixed a small quantity of its own.
"It's just been crazy," she said. "Even people without insurance are paying cash price for it."
The store administered 40 flu shots Wednesday and about 50 Thursday before running out Friday, Williams said. The store has ordered more vaccine and Tamiflu and expects them in next week.
People already sick or wanting a vaccine to ward off infection began streaming into Greenville Pharmacy in Sioux City 10 days ago.
Pharmacist Rob Rehal at the 2705 Correctionville Road store said the staff has given twice as many flu vaccines this year as last year but still has a supply on hand.
“I’ve never seen this many people get a flu vaccine,” Rehal said.
Drilling Pharmacy, 4010 Morningside Ave., stayed open late Thursday to fill prescriptions for flu sufferers sent by urgent-care clinics, pharmacist Bill Drilling said.
Influenza activity is widespread throughout Iowa, but state and local health officials said Friday they didn’t know whether anyone has died of the flu this season. Iowa doesn't require flu deaths to be reported immediately, and confirmation can take months.
State epidemiologist Patricia Quinlisk said the elderly, young children and people with chronic health conditions are most at risk for severe complications from the flu.
The flu season is expected to stretch several more weeks, so people still have time to get a flu shot, officials said.
“It’s out there,” said Siouxland District Health Department's Brock. “People just may need to make a phone call or two.”