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Oregon flu cases on rise; not too late to get a shot

'Fairly typical' uptick; hospitalizations up

SALEM, Ore. - Influenza cases are rising in Oregon, and although the increase is expected this time of year, Oregon Health Authority officials said Thursday it shows flu season is off to a strong and early start. 

It's also a good reminder that it's not too late to get a flu shot, said Paul Cieslak, MD, of the OHA Public Health Division. 

"The winter months are a time when we find ourselves indoors a lot, gathering with family, friends and colleagues, and it's also a very good time for the flu virus to spread," said Cieslak, medical director in Public Health Division's Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section and the Oregon Immunization Program. "People can get a vaccination now and be ready for the festivities." 

During the week of Dec. 4-10, Oregon laboratories reported 207 specimens that were positive for influenza. That's up from 134 positive flu specimens during the Nov. 27-Dec. 3 period, and from 117 positive specimens during the week of Nov. 20-27.

Most of the cases have been influenza A, this season's predominant flu type. 

Hospitalizations have jumped sharply in recent weeks, too. So far, there have been a total of 66 hospitalizations for influenza-like illnesses--based on monitoring in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties--since flu season began the first week of October. That includes 23 hospitalizations the week of Dec. 4-10, up from 17 during Nov. 27-Dec. 3, and 13 during Nov. 20-26. 

There have been no pediatric deaths attributed to the flu this season, officials say. The Public Health Division does not track adult flu deaths. 

"While this is shaping up to be a heavy flu season, this uptick during this time of the year is fairly typical," Cieslak said. "Flu season doesn't usually peak until late February or early March, so people can and should get their flu shots." 

Flu is a virus that causes mild to severe respiratory illness and can lead to hospitalization. The virus kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year. People who are at higher risk of severe illness or death include children, adults older than 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems. 

The flu vaccine is the best protection against flu. It can take up to two weeks to become effective, so getting it earlier in the season is ideal. That said, it's not too late, since flu season usually lasts until spring. Vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months and older. 

So far, flu vaccine manufacturers have shipped more than 1.1 million doses to Oregon during the 2016-2017 flu season. More than a million of these doses have been reported to Oregon's ALERT Immunization Information System as having been administered. 

Other ways to help prevent flu:    
-- Stay home and limit contact with others if you are sick; that includes staying home from work or school when you are sick. 
-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue out when you are done. 
-- Wash hands with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available. 
-- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 
-- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them. 
-- Avoid getting coughed and sneezed on. 

Flu vaccine is available from health care providers, local health departments and many pharmacies. To find a flu vaccine clinic, visit http://www.flu.oregon.gov/ and use OHA's flu vaccine locator tool. 


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