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Yamhill County Public Health officials offer reminder that peak season in Oregon typically comes in February

PMG FILE PHOTO - According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States is experiencing the worst flu season since 2009, when the swine flu became a pandemic. Yamhill County Public Health Officials released a statement last week encouraging people to get flu shots and to continue practicing risk-limiting behaviors such as covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick. 

While acknowledging that the 2017-2018 flu season has been an especially bad one locally and in Oregon, Yamhill County Public Health officials are reminding people that the worst may be yet to come.

Amid national reports characterizing this winter as the worst for the flu since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, the county department released a statement Jan. 29 noting, among other things, that the typical flu season doesn't peak until February.

"Like the rest of Oregon, Yamhill County is seeing significant circulation of the flu virus," the release stated. "Additionally, a second non-flu virus is circulating with very similar symptoms."

On the flip side, the department wants people to know that it's not too late to receive a flu vaccine, which it posits is the best protection against the respiratory-illness-inducing virus.

"When more people are vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community," William Koenig, county public health officer, said in the release.

Yamhill County Health and Human Services Deputy Director Lindsey Manfrin said in an email that the county saw a spike in media inquiries related to the flu in the week prior to the release and opted to be proactive in keeping the public informed.

"That coupled with the amount of media happening nationally -- we thought it would be good for people to get a sense of what is happening locally," Manfrin wrote. "It also gave us the opportunity to let people know that if they wish to they can still get vaccinated and it would be worthwhile to do so."

The release also encouraged people to continue practicing risk-limiting behaviors, such as frequent hand washing with soap and water or use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick, avoiding touching one's eyes, nose and mouth, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that could be home to flu germs.

Nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced Friday that 16 more children died from influenza during the week ending Jan. 27, bringing the total for the current season, which stretches back to October, to 53.

The county's release stated that one of those child deaths occurred in Yamhill County, but did not provide further details, and reiterated that those who are at higher risk of severe illness or death include children, adults over 65, pregnant women and those who have chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems.

"Getting information to people about how severe the flu can be, particularly for vulnerable populations, is important as well as sharing ways to help prevent the spread," Manfrin said.

Manfrin also explained that the county included its warning about the aforementioned second non-flu virus not only to boost awareness about the prevalence of other viruses, but also that multiple strains of the flu continue to circulate.

According to Manfrin, the non-flu virus mentioned in the release features respiratory symptoms similar to the flu, such as cough and congestion, but appears to have a lower grade fever and is not as severe as some of the flu strains circulating.

"People can get multiple viruses so even if someone believes they have had the flu they should continue to be mindful of things like good handwashing and other preventative measures," Manfrin warned.

According to the CDC's latest report, influenza is now considered to be widespread in 48, although Oregon and Hawaii saw lower activity levels for during the last full week in January.

The reported also stated that the ratio of outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms rose from 6.5 to 7.1 percent during that period, remaining well above the national baseline rate of 2.2 percent.

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