Flu comes on strong this year

Still time to get a vaccination

POLK COUNTY — Flu season is packing a wallop this year, but there’s still time to get your flu shot.

Local officials say you should, even if you are healthy and not among high-risk groups, because it will stop the spread of the influenza virus.

Avoid the Flu

• Get the seasonal flu vaccine: The majority of flu is spread by young, healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. That's why vaccination is such an important part of flu prevention. Flu vaccine is recommended for people 6 months and older.

• Wash your hands: Use soap and warm water. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your arm when you cough or sneeze.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• Stay home if you get sick and do not return to work or school until 24 hours after a fever breaks.

• Clean work and household surfaces often.

• Wear a mask if you have a weakened immune system.

• Ask your family, friends and health providers to get a flu vaccination.

• Practice good health habits: Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.

• Manage any chronic conditions.

—Source: Oregon Health Authority

“Flu season is in full swing here in Oregon, and it’s shaping up to be the worst season we’ve seen in the last few years,” said Kirk Hillebrand, Polk County communicable disease nurse. “The exact cause is unknown at this time, but may be partly due to the predominant strain we’ve been seeing — AH3. Some experts believe it to be a more serious strain of flu.”

Flu clinic

POLK COUNTY — Salem Health will offer free flu shots at clinics throughout its facilities.

“We want to reach out to people living in Marion and Polk counties to help protect them from the flu virus,” Leilani Slama, vice president of community engagement at Salem Health, said in a press release. “This has been an especially bad year for the flu, and it’s not too late to get a shot. Our main goal is to make it convenient as possible for people to get these shots.”

A total of 800 influenza vaccines will be available for free on a first come, first served basis for those aged 3 and older. Appointments are not required. Those with an allergy to eggs are asked to see their primary care doctor for the influenza vaccine.

Wednesday, Jan. 25

Salem Health Medical Clinics

Dallas, 555 SE Washington St., 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Monmouth, 512 Main St. E. Suite 300, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

County-specific statistics aren’t available, but statewide numbers indicate cases are still on the rise, but not as sharply as the last few weeks in December and early January. During those weeks, the number of visits to emergency rooms with flu-like symptom skyrocketed.

During the week of Jan. 8-14 — the last week of statistics available — 1,274 tests were positive for influenza. Of those, 1,220 were influenza type AH3, according to Flu Bites, the weekly surveillance report of influenza and respiratory viruses. Cumulative statistics for the season are 6,714 positive tests statewide, 97 percent of which are type AH3.

Hillebrand said locally, the most noticeable effect of this harsher-than-normal flu season has been at long-term care facilities.

“Since the beginning of January, there have been three flu outbreaks in long-term care facilities in Polk County,” Hillebrand said. “Some of the outbreaks may be contributed to relatively low vaccination rates among staff.”

He added most long-term care facilities don’t mandate vaccination for employees and, thus, have the lowest rates among health care workers.

This year’s flu season is proving to be unusually bad, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine is ineffective.

“The vaccine appears to be a good match,” Hillebrand said. “Nearly all of the confirmed cases I’ve seen have tested positive for the flu strain AH3, which was included in this year’s vaccine. The more people that are vaccinated against the flu, the less likely it is to spread through a community.”

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