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Reported flu cases rising rapidly

DALLAS — A recent surge in the number of influenza cases has local hospitals taking precautions and health officials urging people to get flu shots and ward against spreading the illness.

Polk County Public Health Community Health Nurse Jacqui Beal gives Paige Cochrane her flu shot Friday. In recent weeks more people have come in for the vaccine.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Polk County Public Health Community Health Nurse Jacqui Beal gives Paige Cochrane her flu shot Friday. In recent weeks more people have come in for the vaccine.

January 21, 2014

DALLAS — A recent surge in the number of influenza cases has local hospitals taking precautions and health officials urging people to get flu shots and ward against spreading the illness.

"It is definitely escalating," said Arielle LeVeaux, Polk County Public Health clinic services supervisor. "We have not reached epidemic level yet. We are moderate right now."

The specific number of suspected flu cases in Polk County is unknown, LeVeaux said. Records of "influenza-like illnesses" (ILI) as the purpose for patient visits are reported voluntarily by 24 health care providers across the state, as well as total number of patient visits during the same time. ILI is reported as percentage of total visits.

For the week ending Jan. 11, that percentage was 4.08 percent, above the state's seasonal threshold of 1.09 percent, according to the weekly update "Flu Bites" published by the Oregon Health Authority. The latest report was released Friday.

Flu-like illness hospitalization records kept for three counties in the Portland metro area and for the week ending Jan. 11 reported 115 people were hospitalized with ILI symptoms, defined as fever at or above 100 degrees, cough and sore throat.

That, along with ILI case percentages, are used to indicate the prevalence of flu cases, LeVeaux said.

LeVeaux noted that while illnesses are escalating, so far this year has been much tamer than 2009, when flu strain H1N1 reached pandemic status.

"We have that particular strain in the (flu) vaccines this year," she said. "Back in 2009, we did not have the vaccine for that particular strain."

With the number of flu cases on the rise, though, West Valley Hospital in Dallas and Salem Hospital have limited patient visitors at both sites.

The following restrictions were in effect since Thursday: only people needed to give support to and care for patients are allowed to visit, and people who are sick, or have been around someone who is, should not visit, even if they are not sick now.

"While the number of patients we are seeing at this point is normal, taking these steps can help reduce the spread of influenza which can be particularly hard on people with chronic conditions or who are elderly or very young," said Nancy O'Connor, infection prevention manager for Salem Health.

O'Connor noted people can spread the virus — unbeknownst to them — up to a week before they begin to feel sick.

Hospitals will provide masks, tissues and hand hygiene supplies, and signs are posted at entrances to remind visitors of the new restrictions.

Hospitals aren't the only places people should take precautions not to spread or contract the virus. Health officials advise people to stay at home if they are sick, cover their cough, and wash hands and surfaces — such as counters and door knobs — frequently.

LeVeaux said the best protection against the flu is getting a flu shot, even at this stage of flu season. She said it is still widely available through doctors and public health departments.

"I would say it's never too late to get the vaccine," she said.

For more information about the flu and vaccine availability, call your doctor or Polk County Public Health at 503-623-8175, or visit www.co.polk.or.us/ph.

Tips to prevent spreading the virus:

· Cover your cough and sneeze.

· Wash your hands often. Use soap and warm water.

· Stay home when you're sick. Stay home until at least 24-hours after your fever 100 degrees or higher subsides without using fever-reducing medicines.

· Take antiviral medications if prescribed.

· Clean surfaces. Germs can live for hours on hard surfaces. Make sure your home and workspace are wiped down frequently, especially where children are playing.

Source: Polk County Public Health

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