Since reporting started last week, cases of the flu in Oregon is so far less than one percent of outpatient visits.
According to the Oregon Health Authority’s weekly surveillance report, Flu Bites, only 0.2 percent of outpatient visits, with data gathered from 27 clinics around the state, were for an influenza-like illness; there were no positive influenza tests, no flu-associated hospitalizations, and no reported outbreaks in the week of Sept. 30 through Oct. 6.
“Right now, everything is very quiet,” said Dr. Ann Thomas, a public health physician with the Oregon Health Authority.
But that doesn’t mean that getting a flu vaccine isn’t important.
The Centers for Disease Control now recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot, Thomas said, a change from a few years ago, when only certain age groups and people with other health risks were always encouraged to get the vaccine.
It’s hard to predict the severity of the flu season until it’s actually happening or more data is available, Thomas said, but the number one way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated.
Frank Pena and Jacie Zahler, both medical assistants at Klamath Open Door, gave flu shots to patients last weekend, and emphasized the importance of getting the vaccine.
Klamath Open Door offered the vaccine for less than what people without insurance would pay at other locations in hopes of attracting more people from under-served populations, Zahler, who also is the clinic’s vaccine coordinator, explained.
“We want to protect everyone,” Zahler said.
People still die across the country from complications with the contagious respiratory illness, Zahler said, and one of her roles at the clinic is to educate people about the vaccine, like the fact that you can’t get sick with the flu just from getting the shot — the shots typically protect against three strains of the virus determined by the CDC to be the most dangerous that year, but it’s possible you could come down with a different strain.
David Waber, a public health nurse and the immunization coordinator for Klamath County Public Health, also emphasized the vaccine is not perfect, but it is still the best way to protect against the flu.
The health department gives flu shots to children who qualify for the Vaccine for Children program and to under-served groups like at the Gospel Mission, Waber said, but pharmacies have mostly taken over the administration of the vaccine to the general population.
There are several new vaccine products this year as well, Waber noted, including a vaccine for people with egg allergies, as the vaccines are typically made using chicken eggs, high dose options for seniors who may be more resistant to the vaccine, and a shot that protects against different strains of the virus instead of the traditional three.
One of the under-recognized ways of preventing the spread of the flu, Thomas said, is to be proactive about knowing the symptoms of the virus, and staying home from work or school if you recognize them in yourself or your family.
For high-risk groups, if you start to feel symptoms of the flu, Thomas recommends checking in with your health care provider, who can determine whether or not to prescribe anti-viral drugs.
For more information about the influenza virus, and this year’s vaccines, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu.