It's flu season. Are you ready?

Have you had your flu shot yet? You can get immunized at Lake Health and Warner Mountain Medical clinics in Lakeview, and at Lake County Public Health in Lakeview and Christmas Valley. ( photo )

Have you had your flu shot yet? You can get immunized at Lake Health and Warner Mountain Medical clinics in Lakeview, and at Lake County Public Health in Lakeview and Christmas Valley. ( photo)

Oregon Health Authority has released the following information about the 2017-18 flu season. Are you prepared?

The start of fall means the start of influenza season, and public health officials say now is the best time — when the number of flu cases in Oregon is still low — to get vaccinated.

Oregon Health Authority begins tracking flu the first week of October each year. The agency publishes data each week of the season on reports of influenza-like illness from hospital emergency departments and sentinel health care providers around the state; positive flu tests reported by 22 hospital laboratories in Oregon; and hospitalizations reported in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties.

While it’s difficult to forecast exactly how bad the flu season will be this year, health officials say getting a flu shot is the best way to prepare for however it shapes up.

“Every flu season is a bad flu season, but we can all do our part in keeping flu numbers down by getting a flu shot before the season really hits hard,” said Ann Thomas, MD, public health physician in the Acute and Communicable Disease Prevention Section at the OHA Public Health Division.

Flu is a virus that causes mild to severe respiratory illness and can lead to hospitalization. The virus kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year. People at higher risk of severe illness or death include children, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and those with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems.

The flu vaccine is the best protection against flu. It can take up to two weeks to become effective, so getting it earlier in the season is ideal. Vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.

Oregon Public Health Division officials also are encouraging healthcare workers to get vaccinated for the flu. Immunized health care workers help prevent the spread of influenza in health care settings, particular among hospitalized patients at high risk for complications from the flu, such as the elderly, very young, or those with some chronic illnesses.

Since 2009, OHA has required Oregon hospitals to report their healthcare workers’ flu vaccination rates. OHA added this requirement for long-term care facilities in 2010 and then for ambulatory surgery centers in 2011. Last year was the first year dialysis facilities have been required to report their healthcare worker flu vaccination rates. Oregon hospitals and dialysis facilities met the 2015 Healthy People target rate of 75 percent for the 2015-2016 influenza season, while ambulatory surgery centers and skilled nursing facilities fell short.

Data on 2015-2016 Oregon healthcare worker influenza vaccination rates are available on the OHA Public Health website.

Thomas said strategies for increasing flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers include facilities encouraging employees to get vaccinated at the beginning of every flu season; encouraging co-workers, including those not employed by the facility — contractors, volunteers — to get vaccinated, and participating in and encouraging promotional strategies, such as mass vaccination fairs, providing vaccines at no cost and creating incentive programs.

Other ways people can help prevent flu:

  • Stay home and limit contact with others if you are sick, including staying home from work or school when you are sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue out when you are done.
  • Wash hands with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them.
  • Avoid getting coughed and sneezed on.

Flu vaccine is available from healthcare providers, local health departments, and many pharmacies. To find a flu vaccine clinic, visit the OHA flu prevention website and use OHA’s flu vaccine locator tool.