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Editorial: It’s not too late

The big season for promotion of flu vaccination is usually around September or October. That’s because health officials want to get ahead of any building problem.

But by the time flu season hits with full force, some people may think it’s too late to do anything about it.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. It takes about two weeks for a flu shot to take full effect. Oregon’s flu season is just starting to get rolling — and, unfortunately, it looks like it might be building to doozy proportions.

A look at the Oregon Health Authority’s influenza surveillance charts shows that reports of influenza-like illnesses were bumping along through the fall and early winter at a relatively low level — until week 51 of 2013.

That’s Christmas week, if anyone is counting, the time of cross-country travel and visiting family and friends.

During that week, the number of patients reported with flu-like symptoms took a sharp upward turn — nearly doubling the usual percentage of patients.

Seven deaths from the illness have already been reported, including one child.

Health authorities are describing the outbreak as earlier than usual and with the potential to be worse.

“Back in 2009 [the year of the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak], the Northwest wasn’t hit too bad compared to other parts of the country,” said Dr. Daniel Handel of Oregon Health and Science University, quoted by the Associated Press. “This feels worse. It’s definitely earlier. Usually we don’t see it until January, February.”

Based on the past five years of influenza surveillance data, the H1N1 outbreak year actually yielded the largest number of admittances during the fall period and had dropped back to a normal or below normal range. Other years the flu season has been predictable, peaking in February or March.

Last year was also a bad year for flu-like illnesses, while 2010-11 and 2011-12 looked more like normal years.

If this year’s trend continues, it looks like we could be on track for another year like last year, or possibly worse.

With H1N1 as its core contributor, it may be time to rethink that flu vaccination. This particular strain hits the young and the middle aged worst.

The H1N1 strain is part of this year’s vaccination, and with months left in the flu season, health official are urging Oregonians to get the flu shot.

Nearly everyone older than 6 months can be vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between ages 2 and 49, the nasal mist is an option, while others require an old-fashioned flu shot.

Flu vaccinations are available a many health clinics and pharmacies, and are more often than not covered outright under health insurance policies.

Some conditions may preclude getting a vaccination: people who have had serious reactions in the past and those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Those who are currently ill should also wait.

But for the rest of us, it’s important to remember that influenza is not just a stronger than usual cold. It’s an illness that causes tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year.

A flu vaccine is the best way of protecting you and your family.

Also, washing your hands regularly during the day is another key precaution to avoid picking up illnesses.

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