Health

Oregon’s flu season remarkably light — at least so far

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Jan. 12, 2021 9:38 p.m. Updated: Jan. 12, 2021 9:38 p.m.

Health experts say the basic precautionary steps for COVID-19 have helped keep the flu at bay.

At least judging by the numbers, the flu season has been far less prevalent in Oregon this year.

That’s likely because the same precautions Oregonians are taking to avoid COVID-19 seem to be keeping them safe from the flu.

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Dr. Paul Cieslak with the Oregon Health Authority said he’s impressed at how few cases the state has seen: “We’ve only confirmed four cases in the state so far out of 2,800 specimens tested.”

In 2019, the last full flu season before the pandemic, Oregon saw 14,344 confirmed cases of influenza.

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Doctors don’t think the drop is due to the flu vaccine itself being especially effective against this year’s most common strain of flu.

“We did have a lot of people getting vaccinated,” Cieslak said. “But ‘a lot’ is in the 40 to 50% range of eligible adults getting vaccinated. So it’s nowhere near all of the population.”

Instead, Cieslak thinks that wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds is the reason Oregon’s flu season has been so light thus far. He thinks it’s also one of the reasons the state’s hospital capacities haven’t been overwhelmed.

“The last thing we want to see is a typical influenza season, which normally kills a lot of people every year,” he said.

But the state may not be completely out of potential trouble yet. The influenza season can peak as late as March in Oregon.

“I hate to make predictions about influenza because I’ve been fooled so many times in the past,” Cieslak said.

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