The start of the holiday season also means the start of influenza season. If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, it's not too late.
The Oregon Health Authority begins tracking influenza cases the first week of October each year. The number of influenza cases in Oregon is now on the rise. While it's difficult to know exactly how bad the influenza season will be this year, health officials say getting an influenza shot is the best way to keep from getting sick or make the illness less severe.
"Getting a flu shot now - before influenza season really takes off - is the best way to stay well this winter," said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Deputy Health Officer for Multnomah County.
While most people who get influenza feel like they have a very bad cold with fever and chills, influenza can also cause life-threatening illness. Influenza kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year. People at higher risk of severe illness or death are young children, adults older than 65, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems.
The influenza vaccine is the best protection against influenza. Because the virus that causes influenza can change from year to year, it is important to get your shot every year. It can take up to two weeks to become effective, so it is best to get your shot as soon as possible. Vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.
Regional public health officials also encourage health care workers to get vaccinated for influenza. That helps prevent the spread of influenza in healthcare settings, particularly among hospitalized patients, who are often those most at risk for complications from influenza.
Many health systems take other precautions during influenza season, such as posting reminders not to visit loved ones if you are sick, limiting visitors in certain areas of a hospital, and making sure health care workers either get vaccinated or wear a mask.
Other ways people can help prevent influenza:
- Stay home and away from others if you are sick - that means staying home from work or school until you feel better.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue out and wash your hands when you are done.
- Wash hands with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
Influenza vaccine is available from health care providers, some local health departments and many pharmacies.
To find influenza vaccine clinic, visit the Oregon Health Authority influenza prevention website at http://www.influenza.oregon.gov/ and use OHA's influenza vaccine locator tool.