Public health officials hope to reverse late-season flu surge
PORTLAND, Ore. — This month’s lifting of state mask requirements put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting many Oregonians to remove their face coverings, and health officials say it’s a good time to remind people about the importance of getting vaccinated against another circulating virus: influenza.
Oregon is seeing a late-season rise in flu cases – flu season generally peaks around late January or February – as mask requirements for public indoor spaces and schools fall away, making it easier to spread the virus from person to person, according to Oregon Health Authority communicable disease experts.
“The 2020-2021 flu season was virtually non-existent as public health restrictions, such as stay-home orders, mask requirements, and limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, kept flu cases down at record-low levels,” said Paul Cieslak, M.D., medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations at the OHA’s Public Health Division. “Now we’re seeing more cases at a time when the season is usually coming to a close.”
During the week of March 6 to March 12, Oregon reported that 3.1% of influenza tests were positive, compared with 2.5% the week of Feb. 27 to March 5, 1.6% the week of Feb. 20 to Feb. 26, and .6% the week of Feb. 6 to Feb. 12. During the same week of the 2020-2021 season, a scant .1% of flu tests were positive. The vast majority of flu cases have been influenza A.
Cieslak emphasizes that it’s still not too late to get a flu vaccine, and getting it now, as indoor and outdoor gatherings become more common, can help reverse the surge. Getting vaccinated can also reduce the severity of flu illness even if you get infected.
Anyone ages 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine, particularly young children, older adults and those who have chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease or metabolic diseases such as diabetes. In addition, pregnant women should get vaccinated since children younger than 6 months can’t get the flu vaccine. When a pregnant woman gets the vaccine, it means she not only avoids serious complications during pregnancy, but she also transmits, through the placenta, precious flu antibodies for her unborn child.
Flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19. That’s why it’s important to get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine, both of which are available from health care providers, local health departments and many pharmacies in Oregon.
The flu vaccine is free or low cost with most health insurance plans. To find flu vaccine clinic, visit www.flu.oregon.gov and use OHA’s flu vaccine locator tool.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu. Additional ways Oregonians can help prevent the spread of flu include:
- Staying home from work or school when you are sick and limit contact with others.
- Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water; use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them.
- Avoiding getting coughed and sneezed on.