Health officials say flu season could be a bad one

Oregon is heading into what may be the worst flu season in three years, according to statistics released Friday by the Oregon Health Authority.

About 5 percent of doctor's office visits reported to the Oregon Health Authority in the last week of December were for flu-like symptoms, according to Paul Cieslack, a doctor and the 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 Oregon Health Authority.

"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 healthcare providers voluntarily giving flu reports to 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, spokesman Grant Walker said.

Another seven cases were confirmed in January at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass, Walker said.

Neither healthcare providers nor school districts are required to report the number of people experiencing flu-like symptoms to county or state health department offices, according to Carol Irwin, a community healthcare nurse for Jackson County Health and Human Services.

Because of this, Irwin said no data is gathered to create county statistics.

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 flu symptoms to spread across the country.

Cieslack said that he encourages everyone to get a flu shot, particularly those with older family members.

—Teresa Ristow

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