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County eludes full force of flu – so far

 

While the flu is rampant in most of the U.S., Curry County has been largely unaffected. However, according to one health center, people have been coming in, and local schools saw an outbreak before Christmas break. 

“Right now it really hasn’t hit,” Curry County Public Health immunization coordinator Kathie Wills said. “I don’t know of any reported cases at all.”

Currently, health officials are pushing preventative measures. 

 

“Each year, we’re pushing people to get flu shots early,” Wills said. “Everybody started in August, September this year. I think that helped some because people got immunized sooner than normal. ...

“I’d say we’re one of the slowest ones because of where we’re located. We’re spread out;  we don’t have big cities where big groups of people are together. We don’t have shopping malls where people can spread it real easily.”

It’s also early in the season; Flu season typically doesn’t start until February or March.

“We do a lot of preventive work in preparation for the beginning of influenza season,” said Lila Chambers, an RN for Curry Health Network. “The Health Network as well as other county agencies like Public Health, all of us are working collaboratively to promote influenza vaccination as well as healthy behaviors.”

Healthy behaviors include  washing one’s hands regularly, covering one’s mouth when coughing, staying away from people who are sick, using hand sanitizer, eating healthy and refraining from touching one’s eyes and nose as much as possible, according to health officials. 

“The regular stuff we all say,” Wills said. 

And vaccines are still available. They can be found at most drugstores or in physicians’ offices. 

And people are making appointments for those vaccines, according to Lee Wilson, an administrator at Oak Street Health Care Center. [check name] 

“Lots of people are coming in,” she said. “Lots of people are racing in for flu shots at the last minute with the news, which is true. It’s a nasty flu. You definitely want to get your flu shot for sure. It’s not too late.”

Wilson said  the center has run out of the children’s vaccine, but still has plenty of adult vaccines. 

The flu may not be widespread in Curry County, but right before the holidays, students were sick.

“Since school has been back Monday, I’ve sent maybe two kids home with a fever, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Kalmiopsis Elementary School health aide Joanne Peterson said Thursday. “The end of the year before Christmas breaks it seems that’s when it hit everybody. But right now - knock on wood - [hyphens] so far so good.”

Peterson on average daily attendance of Kalmiopsis students is the 94th to 95th percentile, but before break the school was in the 80th percentile, with the lowest being 75 one day. Part of the drop in attendance can be attributed to people leaving early for vacation, but a lot of it was the flu, she said. 

Azalea Middle School health aide Jessica Neerenberg said Azalea students were sick before break as well. 

“Right before Christmas, lots of kids had the flu,” she said. “I’m not seeing it so much right now, but I do have some kids with it.”

Neerenberg added that a lot of Azalea staff were sick with the flu over break, too. 

“I’m hoping it’s kind of passed, but judging from what I’ve seen on the news, it doesn’t look like it is. I’m kind of wondering if it’s going to get worse again, or if we saw the worst of it. … It seems like a week or two after (students are) back in school they get sick again.

“I just recommend if the kids aren’t feeling well they stay home and don’t come to begin with. Not that we don’t want the kids here, but if they’re not feeling well, we don’t want them to get other kids sick.”

Oak Street Health Center has had people coming in sick, too. 

“I’m not sure how many cases, but it’s noticeable,” Wilson said. “We’ve had people coming in sick. Half my staff had it before. It’s going around for sure. 

“Whoever’s getting exposed is getting it, and it’s been a long one. Longer than your typical 24-hour flu.”

Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, body aches and fatigue. They usually come on rapidly, within three to six hours. To treat mild cases, health officials recommend people get plenty rest and fluids. For more severe symptoms, such as high fever or difficulty breathing, people should see a doctor. 

Influenza kills about 23,000 people nationwide each year, said Dr. Paul Cieslak, manager of the communicable diseases prevention section of the Oregon Public Health Division. Normally, 90 percent of deaths occur among people 65 and older. Deaths are due to cardiac and respiratory failure, systems affected by influenza, increase during flu season. 

However, Cieslak said this year is shaping up so far as more or less normal.

“For the past four seasons, influenza has peaked in February or March. This year if things continue to go this way, it will be either January or February,” he said. “It’s a little early, but not terrible so. Four or five years ago, it peaked in January or December.

“The flu is more or less expected every year.”

— The Bend Bulletin also contributed 

to this story. 

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