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October sends warning sign that flu season is near

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The start of October and arrival of cold weather means the start of flu season is around the corner. Oregon Health Authority officials say it’s a good time for families to schedule appointments to get flu vaccines. The vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and older.

The flu vaccine may take up to two weeks to become effective, so getting it earlier in the season is ideal, OHA disease and vaccine experts say. While it’s difficult to know exactly how bad the flu season will be this year, they say getting a flu shot is the best way to prepare for however it shapes up.

“They are the best protection against flu we have available,” said Ann Thomas, M.D., public health physician at the OHA Public Health Division. “We can all do our part in keeping flu numbers down by getting a flu shot before the season really hits hard.”

Flu vaccine is available from health care providers, local health departments and many pharmacies. The vaccine is free or low cost with most health insurance plans. To find flu vaccine clinic, visit http://www.flu.oregon.gov/ and use OHA’s flu vaccine locator tool.

Flu is a virus that causes mild to severe respiratory illness. In severe cases it can lead to hospitalization and even death. The virus kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year. People at higher risk of severe illness include children, adults older than 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems. Oregon had two flu-related deaths of children during the 2017-2018 flu season.

Oregon Immunization Program data for the 2017-2018 flu season show that flu vaccination rates among some groups lag behind others. Officials worry that Latinos of all ages and African American seniors may be left unprotected if flu vaccination rates among the two groups do not increase. Latinos typically have high childhood immunization rates, yet only 39 percent of Latinos received a flu vaccine. African American seniors had a 61 percent vaccination rate compared to 73 percent for white seniors.

“It’s not clear why flu vaccination rates for these two groups are lower,” said Aaron Dunn, OHA Immunization Program manager. “We want to call attention to it and hope our health partners will help us reach out to these groups to ensure everyone has an opportunity to get a flu vaccine.”

Public health officials also encourage health care workers to get vaccinated for the flu. Immunized health care workers help prevent the spread of influenza in health care settings, particularly among hospitalized patients at high risk for complications from the flu such as the elderly, very young and those with some chronic illnesses. Data on 2016-2017 Oregon health care worker influenza vaccination rates are available on the OHA website.

Additional ways people can help prevent flu:

  • Stay home from work or school when you are sick and limit contact with others.
  • 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.
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This information was provided for dissemination to our readers and was edited to comply with Associated Press style and professional journalism standards by Homepage staff.

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