PORTLAND — Oregon’s flu season has arrived early, with scores of patients visiting emergency rooms and at least seven deaths caused by the infectious disease.
Portland-area hospitals reported 179 flu-related hospitalizations from the start of the season through Dec. 28. The hospitals said seven people have died from flu through Monday.
The statewide number of deaths was not available. The Oregon Public Health Division does not tally adult flu deaths, only those of young people. There has been one of those — a 5-year-old boy who died at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
The H1N1 virus is the predominant flu strain circulating now. It hits the young and middle-age people particularly hard. Dr. Ann Thomas of the state Public Health Division said 84 percent of those requiring hospitalization in the Portland area were younger than 65, and that’s “quite unusual.”
Thomas has been tracking Oregon flu seasons for 10 years, and says it almost always peaks in late February and early March.
“The only other time we’ve had this many hospitalizations before Christmas was in 2009, the pandemic,” she said. “It’s interesting that it’s the same strain of flu that’s circulating.”
Legacy Health had 40 patients admitted with the flu across its six Portland-area hospitals as of Monday afternoon, spokeswoman Maegan Vidal said. Other hospitals did not have that information available.
Dr. Daniel Handel of OHSU said people of all have ages have been coming to the emergency room with the classic flu symptoms.
“Back in 2009, the Northwest wasn’t hit too bad compared to other parts of the country,” he said. “This feels worse. It’s definitely earlier. Usually we don’t see it until January, February.”
The Centers for Disease Control says influenza season can last into spring, and it contributes to the deaths of an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Americans each year.
The H1N1 strain is part of this year’s vaccination, and — with months left in the flu season — health officials urge Oregonians to get a flu shot. It generally takes two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect.
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