If you're feeling like just about everybody you know is getting sick, staying home sick or just recovering from having been sick, you're not far off.

The 2016–2017 influenza season was the worst on record in Oregon, according to statistics from the Oregon Health Authority — and so far, this year's numbers are even higher.

“We are off to a very severe beginning to 2018 as far as flu cases," said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Public Health division of the Oregon Health Authority. 

In 2016-17, the number of people who made emergency visits to the hospital to be treated for flu peaked at 4 percent of all emergency visits. So far, the 2017-18 record is 5 percent and may not have peaked yet, Modie said. 

"Emergency department visits for influenza-like symptoms looks like about a week ahead of where we were last year," Modie said. "We are on track to meet or beat the 2016-17 season.”

Adult deaths from influenza aren't tracked because while flu may contribute to a person's mortality, it's hard to determine whether it's the sole cause, Modie said. However, the state does track pediatric deaths. Luckily, he said, there have been none so far.

People should continue to take precautions, however, he said. "We may be seeing a peak now, but generally we don’t peak until closer to the end of the month, around the beginning of February. I think we’re confident now this thing is not over yet.”

In the mid-valley, the Linn County Health Department has dealt with three flu outbreaks so far, said Todd Noble, health administrator and director of mental health for Linn County Health Services. All have been resolved.

An "outbreak," in medical terms, doesn't refer to specific numbers, but does describe a sudden occurrence of a disease in the community that has never been seen before, or more cases of that disease than are usually expected in that community, Noble said.

As of last week, Linn County had received reports of flu outbreaks this season at both Quail Run specifically and the Mennonite Village in general in Albany, and at a day care business in Lebanon. 

Quail Run had reported no new cases as of Jan. 4, Noble said. Information on the other two wasn't immediately available.

Flu concerns prompted all Samaritan Health Services hospitals to begin limiting visitors in birthing centers as of Jan. 4. Each new mom will be allowed a total of four visitors during her hospital stay, and no visitors under the age of 12 unless they are themselves patients or healthy siblings of a newborn. The restrictions will be in place until the flu season is over.

"Yes, this year is looking to be a bad year, as was last year," Noble said.

Benton County hasn't totaled any official outbreaks, but Charlie Fautin, deputy director of the Benton County Health Department, said he's hearing about plenty of cases all the same.

Some infectious diseases warrant mandatory reporting to health organizations. Flu isn't one of them and most people who come down with it don't get a definitive lab test, so it's harder to track, Fautin said. 

That said, he added, "We are getting definite reports and seeing in our own clinic here quite a number of people with positive rapid tests. We check in with Corvallis hospital, they are seeing quite at bit and implementing some of their bad season infection control measures.

"Without a doubt, it’s a bad year."

Because the season has several weeks to go, it's not too late to get a flu shot, And in fact, that's exactly what local, state and federal health care professionals recommend.

A study in Australia found the current flu vaccine was only 10 percent effective against one particular flu strain, known as Influenza A, H3N2. That's true for the United States, too, Modie said.

However, so far, Oregon is seeing more cases of Influenza A H1N1 and Influenza B H1N1. The vaccine's effectiveness against those strains has been found to be closer to 50 to 60 percent, he said.

While no vaccine is a 100-percent guarantee the receiver will not get sick, health departments are recommending the shot anyway because it should lessen the severity of the symptoms no matter what strain you get, he added.

Fautin said he recommends the flu vaccine for the same reason, adding that people who catch other diseases — even a simple cold — are more likely to see it develop into something worse, such as flu, without a protective shot. 

"I would urge anyone who has not gone out to get a vaccine to go out and get it," he said. "As with other things, some protection is better than none."


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