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SERGEANT BLUFF -- With peak influenza season still a few months away, patients infected with the virus are beginning to trickle into clinics and urgent care facilities in Siouxland. 

During the last flu season, which some local providers categorized as one of the worst they've seen in their careers, the influenza vaccine wasn't well-matched to strains of the virus that were circulating; and 270 people died in Iowa from the flu, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

So far this flu season, Dr. Jason Losee, a family physician at UnityPoint Clinic Family Medicine Sergeant Bluff, said reported flu strains seem to fit "very well" with the vaccine that has been released. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the annual flu vaccine, which prevents an estimated 40 to 60 percent of flu illness, is the best way to protect against the virus.

"As they're monitoring the flu strains that have been reported, we're not ahead of previous years," Losee said. "Evidence so far doesn't point towards a particularly bad (season)."

Influenza activity is currently low in the state, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, which mirrors the situation nationwide. The CDC noted small increases in flu activity in 13 states -- Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas -- in its most recent weekly influenza surveillance report. Influenza A viruses have predominated in the country since the beginning of July, according to the CDC.

Besides getting vaccinated, Losee said Siouxlanders can prepare for flu season by being more aware of germs in general and practicing good hand-washing on a regular basis with soap and hot water. 

"Not just influenza, but cold viruses are everywhere. They're in the environment, even if they're not making somebody sick at the time," he said. "Everything we touch has bacteria and viruses on it."

Flu symptoms, such as tiredness, cough, sore throat and nasal congestion, overlap with allergy, cold and sinus infection symptoms. Losee said the presence of body aches and fever are more indicative of influenza.

"If somebody is feeling body aches, profound fatigue -- which is more common with influenza than a cold -- headache and cough, then they should get checked out as soon as possible," he said. "The antiviral medicines that we have can help decrease the duration and severity of symptoms some."

Antiviral medications must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. This flu season, the drug Xofluza, which was just approved by the FDA last month, joins Tamiflu as a treatment option. Losee said a local pharmacist told him Xofluza wasn't in stock, but could be ordered at a cost of about $150 out of pocket.

"Tamiflu, if you have influenza, is a twice-daily dose for five days, whereas this new medication is a one-time dose, so there's some convenience in the dosing," he said.

Losee said research seems to indicate that Xofluza can clear the virus from body more rapidly than Tamiflu, but he said the time it takes both drugs to reduce symptoms is about the same.

"It hasn't necessarily, so far, been shown to make somebody feel better faster, even though there may be some evidence that the virus is cleared away faster," he said of Xofluza. "That's probably because there's still a period of time where, even if you kill off a virus or a bacteria, there's still a healing process that has to happen in the body."

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