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Oregon Family Magazine

Tracking the Flu

11/03/2019 10:18 ● By Sandy Kauten
Each year as the temperatures drop, predictions of the severity of the flu season begin. Then, as the season takes off, you can expect to hear news reports about whether this year is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year for the flu. But where do those reports come from, and what do they mean? Locally, cases of the flu are reported to the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) by your medical provider. State-level reports go to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and all of that data is used to create a weekly report of statistics.

Because it is a virus, there are no great treatments for the flu, and the best thing to do is to encourage people to get a flu shot. Still, the weekly report helps the medical community track the breadth and depth of an outbreak and plan accordingly. “If there’s an active outbreak that’s sending people to the doctor, that helps inform our scheduling,” says Dr. Stacy Chance, Oregon Medical Group’s Chief Medical Officer.

The best way to fend off the flu is to have your flu vaccine. And last year’s vaccine won’t help you at all. The flu virus mutates over time, making it important to get the vaccine that’s matched to the predictions of the next most likely versions the flu virus may take. This year’s flu is predicted to match four viruses circulating in the United States.

The onset of flu season is unpredictable and can vary by region. The “flu season” often begins as early as September and can continue until May but activity most commonly peaks between December and February. Since there’s still plenty of flu season ahead of us, even if you haven’t yet had your flu shot, it’s still likely to be worthwhile as the season intensifies. It is important that children receive the vaccine soon, particularly because some children may require two doses with at least 28 days in between.

Why does the flu correlate with winter? Though the flu virus appears throughout the year, it is more viable in cold and dry air. Add the increased time we spend indoors and the sharing the air, doorknobs, light switches and other germ-friendly zones, and you have a recipe for a surge in sickness.

Locally, the vaccine is ready in all Oregon Medical Group clinics as well as Lane County Public Health and many other medical clinics and pharmacies. For more information about the vaccine, contact your medical provider.