DES MOINES, Iowa - At least 32 care centers in Iowa have had outbreaks of influenza recently, according to health officials who say it's difficult to fight off the disease despite such safeguards as vaccination and sanitation measures.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said she's received daily reports of the disease affecting nursing homes, assisted living centers and other care facilities, The Des Moines Register reported.
"It's certainly much higher than it's been in the past," she said of the frequency of the reports.
At the Bishop Drumm Retirement Center in Johnston, every resident and employee was vaccinated against the flu. But the virus spread at the center in December. Several residents required hospitalization.
"It was awful for them here," said Priscilla Myers of Johnston, whose mother, Rosemary Hall, was one of about 35 residents infected. "It seemed like they all got the flu at once."
Quinlisk, the state's top infectious disease expert, said the flu contributes to hundreds of deaths of older people in Iowa during a typical year. The state department said 64 percent of Iowa residents hospitalized for flu complications this winter have been 65 or older.
Mischelle Denison's mother-in-law, 87-year-old Darlene Denison, was moved to Bishop Drumm last year. Mischelle Denison said she is concerned about illnesses such as the flu because care facilities have people with weak immune systems in close proximity.
Darlene Denison herself became infected with the flu. The development meant family members had to put on medical gowns, masks and gloves when visiting her.
"But she took it all in stride," Mischelle Denison said.
Quinlisk said she won't have a solid number of deaths related to the flu until death certificates are analyzed. But she said that will still make it tricky to track, since the flu isn't always listed as a contributing cause of death for an older person with other health ailments.