By Teresa Ristow
Oregon is heading into what may be the worst flu season in three years, according to statistics released last week by the Oregon Health Authority.
About 5 percent of doctor’s office visits reported to the OHA in the last week of December were for flu-like symptoms, according to Dr. Paul Cieslack, medical director of the Oregon Immunization Program.
Reports of symptoms and a number of confirmed cases brought the state’s flu activity level from minimal to moderate for the first time in nearly two years, according to information gathered by Flu Bites, a weekly report of the OHA.
“It looks like we’re on the upswing,” said Cieslak. “Typically flu season begins slowly and takes a while to build up steam. This past week, it really started to tick up.”
The statistics provide only a sample of the state, with 22 health care providers voluntarily giving flu reports to the program, Cieslak said.
In Jackson County, Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center saw a similar jump in flu symptoms, administering more than 100 flu tests last month and confirming 10 cases.
In the first nine days of January, another 23 cases were confirmed, according to spokesman Grant Walker.
Another seven cases were confirmed in January at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Walker said.
Neither health-care providers nor school districts are required to report the number of people experiencing flu-like symptoms to county or state health department offices, said Carol Irwin, a community health-care nurse for Jackson County Health and Human Services.
Because of this, Irwin said no data is gathered to create county statistics.
The Linda Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Ashland had an infectious disease consultant visiting the center Monday to assess symptoms in various patients.
A staff member at Linda Vista said she couldn’t confirm the number of residents experiencing flu-like symptoms until after the consultant finished assessing residents.
Cieslack said he encourages everyone to get a flu shot, particularly those with older family members.
“If you’ve got a loved one who is older, you really need to get vaccinated,” said Cieslack. “Now is the time.”
Cieslack said that while the flu vaccination isn’t perfect, having more people vaccinated will curb the spread of the virus, as some people act as carriers without showing symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Irwin said the Health and Human Services office and local school districts last collected flu data in 2009, when a pandemic H1N1 strain was causing cases of the flu across the country.
The rural Prospect Charter School in northeast Jackson County was forced to close for three days that year because 30 percent of the campus’ then-210 students had experienced flu symptoms.
This year, the school has been relatively flu-free, according to registrar Lacy Manning.
“We’ve been really lucky so far, and we haven’t had anything,” said Manning.
The Medford and Central Point school districts also reported relatively low incidence of flu symptoms in students so far this season.
Cieslack said that the last two flu seasons have seen relatively light flu strains, and many people were naturally immune.
This year, Cieslack said a more dangerous H3H2 flu strain is going around, and hit first in the southern part of the country before spreading through Oregon.
“The H3H2 strains tend to be a little worse,” said Cieslack. “It’s looking like the rest of the season is ahead of us.”
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.