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The start of fall means the start of influenza season, and public health officials say now is the best time--when the number of flu cases in Oregon is still low--to get vaccinated.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) begins tracking flu the first week of October each year. The agency publishes data each week of the season on reports of influenza-like illness from hospital emergency departments and sentinel health care providers around the state; positive flu tests reported by 22 hospital laboratories in Oregon; and hospitalizations reported in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties.
While it's difficult to forecast exactly how bad the flu season will be this year, health officials say getting a flu shot is the best way to prepare for however it shapes up.
"Every flu season is a bad flu season, but we can all do our part in keeping flu numbers down by getting a flu shot before the season really hits hard," said Ann Thomas, MD, public health physician in the Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section at the OHA Public Health Division.
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 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. Vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.
Oregon Public Health Division officials also are encouraging health care workers to get vaccinated for the flu. Immunized health care workers help prevent the spread of influenza in health care settings, particular among hospitalized patients at high risk for complications from the flu, such as the elderly, very young or those with some chronic illnesses.
Since 2009 OHA has required Oregon hospitals to report their health care workers' flu vaccination rates. OHA added this requirement for long-term care facilities in 2010 and then for ambulatory surgery centers in 2011. Last year was the first year dialysis facilities have been required to report their health care worker flu vaccination rates. Oregon hospitals and dialysis facilities met the 2015 Healthy People target rate of 75 percent for the 2015-2016 influenza season, while ambulatory surgery centers and skilled nursing facilities fell short.
Data on 2015-2016 Oregon health care worker influenza vaccination rates are available on the OHA Public Health website at http://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/DISEASESCONDITIONS/COMMUNICABLEDISEASE/HAI/Documents/Reports/FluVacc_Report_2015.pdf.
Thomas said strategies for increasing flu vaccination rates among health care workers include facilities encouraging employees to get vaccinated at the beginning of every flu season; encouraging coworkers, including those not employed by the facility--contractors, volunteers--to get vaccinated, and participating in and encouraging promotional strategies, such as mass vaccination fairs, providing vaccines at no cost and creating incentive programs.
Other ways people can help prevent flu:
- Stay home and limit contact with others if you are sick, including 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 flu vaccine clinic, visit the OHA flu prevention website at http://www.flu.oregon.gov/Â and use OHA's flu vaccine locator tool.