Flu season the worst in several years
Oregon has hit the height of its flu season, and based on the number of known cases, it is the most severe season in at least the past four years.
According to Oregon Health Authority data, about 5.1 percent of emergency room visits statewide have been for flu symptoms, a full percentage point more than any of the past three seasons. Of those 2017-18 emergency room visits, about 32 percent of the people experiencing flu symptoms tested positive for influenza, percentage consistent with previous years.
Karen Yeargain, communicable disease coordinator for Crook County Health Department, said the flu season began to ramp up around Christmas time, and it appears to be reaching its peak currently. That peak typically lasts about two weeks and then the number of cases begins to decline.
Yeargain said there is not yet enough data available to determine the cause of the spike in cases.
"Whether it is because of people not getting their flu shots or because there is a gap in protection, it takes more time to know that," she said.
Consequently, Yeargain contends getting vaccinated is still the best option.
"We are just heading into the height of our flu season," she said. "Having that coverage is better than not having it."
Health officials not only recommend the vaccine to prevent as many flu cases as possible, Yeargain said, they want to keep whatever cases do emerge as mild as possible. Those who are vaccinated but get the flu tend to have less severe illnesses.
"We want to keep it milder so they don't get complications," she said, noting that pneumonia is the primary flu-provoked complication that results in hospitalizations.
Not only are flu case numbers higher this year, local cases have involved both Influenza A and B, and some people have been infected with both strains at the same time.
"Influenza B is typically a spring and summer type of flu," Yeargain said. Influenza B is less severe, she added, and is more common in teens and young adults because it doesn't go through as many mutations. People usually get sick from Influenza B once and never get it again.
While both Influenza A and B have emerged locally, Yeargain said the vaccines are better equipped to cover illnesses than in past years.
"There has been a change in the vaccine," she explained. "Where it used to contain two A's and one B, it now contains three A's and one B.
While Yeargain recommends anybody who is not vaccinated get a flu shot, she said certain people are at greater risk for flu-related complications. They include young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women and those with a health condition that would make them more susceptible to flu-provoked complications.
"Your protection starts building right away," Yeargain said of the vaccination, "but it reaches its peak (protection) in about two weeks."
So during that time and even after the two-week window, she recommends people avoid people who have flu symptoms, wash their hands and avoid touching their face after coming in contact with someone who is sick.
And those who catch the flu are also urged to be cautious and prevent spreading it to others.
"If you are sick, cover your cough and stay at home," she said. "Don't spread it."