Health

Flu infections in Southern Oregon are the highest in the state this season

By Roman Battaglia (Jefferson Public Radio)
Dec. 29, 2023 11:08 p.m.
FILE: A flu vaccine is readied at the L.A. Care and Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plans' Community Resource Center in Lynwood, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2022. Health officials said flu and COVID-19 infections were expected to accelerate in late December, fueled by holiday travel and gatherings, low vaccination rates, and a new COVID variant that seems to spread more easily.

FILE: A flu vaccine is readied at the L.A. Care and Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plans' Community Resource Center in Lynwood, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2022. Health officials said flu and COVID-19 infections were expected to accelerate in late December, fueled by holiday travel and gatherings, low vaccination rates, and a new COVID variant that seems to spread more easily.

Mark J. Terrill / AP

According to the Oregon Health Authority, Southern Oregon is seeing the highest rates of positivity on influenza tests in the state, with the latest data showing a 12.3% positivity rate.

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The flu virus can cause mild to severe symptoms that can sometimes even lead to death. Those younger than 5 or older than 65 are at an increased risk for severe illness.

Tanya Phillips from Jackson County Public Health said the flu test data comes from Oregon hospitals, not local doctors or urgent care clinics.

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“So it’s not telling us how many people actually have the flu,” she said. “It is a data point that lets us know, ‘Hey, flu is picking up here.’”

Phillips said they determine the flu is circulating widely when the test positivity rate is above 10% for two weeks in a row. The flu virus typically circulates during the fall and winter, with peaks between December and February.

“In years prior Southern Oregon was hit with the flu first,” said Phillips. “The rest of the state really wasn’t seeing what we were seeing or experiencing and then as the weeks went, then other areas of the state caught up and then we started to see that decrease.”

Phillips said people should also get vaccinated for the flu if they haven’t already. She said vaccination rates are lower than health officials would hope for. Even if someone does get sick, getting vaccinated can help prevent serious illness.

Residents should look for warning signs the sickness is getting worse, such as severe muscle pain, seizures or a fever that won’t go away.

Those at an increased risk of severe illness should also talk to their doctor about antiviral drugs, which can mean the difference between a mild illness and a trip to the emergency room.

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