POLK COUNTY — Flu season may be loosening its grip on the Western states as the week ending Jan. 27 is the second week reports of flu activity in the region have decreased.
Warning signs of serious illness:
Warning signs of serious illness:
High, persistent fever.
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
Shallow, rapid breathing.
Severe or persistent vomiting.
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
Feeling better and suddenly getting worse, a sign of secondary pneumonia.
“There are signs that activity in the west may be easing up,” said Anne Schuchat, the acting director of the Centers for Disease Control during Friday’s conference call update on flu season.
That doesn’t mean Oregonians should believe the risk of becoming ill is gone.
Get vaccinated. Even if the vaccine isn’t as effective on the dominate strain this season, the vaccine should shorten illness and make symptoms less severe.
Wash your hands frequently.
Stay at home if you are sick and at least 24 hours after fever breaks.
Cover your cough or sneeze. Cough into your elbow or sleeve.
According to the CDC, flu activity is still in the high range for Oregon, but isn’t widespread, meaning outbreaks are regional.
“Flu activity in Oregon reached its peak a few weeks ago. While it has started to decline, we do not expect it to taper off completely anytime soon,” said Arielle LeVeaux, the quality coordinator at West Valley Hospital. “Flu activity is still high in the area and as such it is very important to protect yourself and those most vulnerable.”
Nationwide, flu season is staying steady or getting worse. The week ending Jan. 27 was the 10th in a row of elevated activity, with several weeks to come, Schuchat said.
The 2017-18 season has been a rough one, according to the CDC. This year’s vaccine has a lower effectiveness rate on the predominant strain seen in most positive tests, H3N2, and hospitalization rates have surpassed that of the previous high in 2014-15 season.
Flu Bites, Oregon’s weekly report on flu and respiratory illnesses, reported 5 percent of emergency room visits were for influenza-like illness throughout the state, down from 5.3 percent the previous week. That compares to nationwide figure of 7.1 percent of visits related to flu-like illness.
Hospitalization rates nationwide average 51.4 per 100,000 people, which exceeds the 2014-15 rate at the same point in the season. That year, 710,000 people were hospitalized.
“If this current trend in hospitalization rates is maintained through the season, it is possible that the number of flu hospitalizations may well exceed 710,000,” said Dan Jernigan, director of the Influenza Division at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.
Jernigan said hospitalization rates in Oregon are double what they were in 2014-15.
“About half of the cases of hospitalizations for influenza in children are occurring in previously healthy children,” Schuchat said. “We do think those warning signs of difficulty breathing, high fever, rapid breathing, those are clues to call the doc.”
Another worrisome sign is feeling better, then suddenly feeling worse. That could be a signal of a secondary infection.
Vaccinations still are available. Though the vaccine is less effective in preventing H3N2, it has better protection against other strains circulating, and can shorten illnesses or reduce the severity of symptoms, Schuchat said.
Antiviral medications are recommended for vulnerable groups, including those who are sick or at high-risk of developing complications, including young children, those 65 and older, and pregnant women.
And remember, stay home if you are sick.
“This will help stop the spread of the virus at workplaces, schools and in the community at large,” LeVeaux said.