H3N2 flu strain still slow to arrive in Oregon
Flu season in the U.S. is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade — and it could be a bad one — but Oregon is not yet seeing the jump in cases that has put health officials in the South on the alert for a national outbreak.
The predominant flu strain — known as H3N2 — still hasn’t made its way to Oregon, Charlie Fautin, the deputy director of the Benton County Healthy Department, said Monday.
In fact, Oregon flu cases are “minimal,” according to “Flu Bites,” a weekly online tally of flu cases reported to health officials in Oregon. For the week of Nov. 18-24, the most recent weekly report available, only two flu patients in Oregon required treatment at a hospital.
However, many people are suffering from bad colds that can be confused with the flu, which often has more symptoms that include fatigue, head and body aches, fever, cough and a runny nose. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea or they can develop pneumonia and other severe complications.
But a bad cold also can be mistaken for the flu, Fautin said.
“There is a lot of crud out there .. definitely some respiratory infections circulating around ... Unfortunately, what’s been circulating here, the flu shot won’t prevent.”
Some good news, he said, is that now is the perfect time to get a flu vaccination to prevent the H3N2 strain of flu before it makes its way to Oregon and before it spoils Christmas travel plans.
Most pharmacies or doctors have the injectable vaccine for between $20 and $25, Fautin said. (See below for information on shots through the Benton County Health Department.) Supplies are plentiful, and the vaccine seems very effective in preventing the H3N2 strain.
Fautin also addressed a common misconception about the flu vaccination — that it actually gives people the flu.
He explained that because it takes a flu vaccine about two weeks to provide resistance to the H3N2 strain of flu, someone who was exposed to the flu a few days after getting the vaccination still could come down with the flu.
Also, a common reaction to the vaccination is soreness at the injection site and a general feeling of fatigue for a few days that make people think they have the flu.
“That is just your body mounting that immune response,” Fautin said. He recommended extra sleep, a well-balanced diet and plenty of fluids after a vaccination.
Now is the time of year when people should practice the standard cold-prevention routine: frequently washing hands, covering coughs and staying home when sick.
The H3N2 flu has hit hardest in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is making people sicker than usual, earlier than the usual post-holiday outbreak. As usual, the flu is particularly hard on the very young and on the elderly. Two children have died, and flu-related hospitalizations are on the rise.
“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell,” Frieden said. But he added that people are better prepared than in years past; an estimated 112 million Americans have been vaccinated so far.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older.
On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.
Flu usually peaks in midwinter. A strain of swine flu that hit in 2009 caused a wave of cases in the spring and then again in the early fall. But that was considered a unique type of flu, distinct from the conventional strains that circulate every year.
The Benton County Health Department at 530 N.W. 27th St. offers flu shots on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays except for Wednesday, when the hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The cost is $25, but people who are unable to pay still can be seen.
A nasal spray is available for people ages 2 to 50 years old. Pregnant women and those older than 65 are especially encouraged to get the shots.