LA GRANDE — Flu shots remain available for those who may need them and, according to local data, people do.
With visits to the hospital for flu symptoms at a steady 5% across the state according to Oregon Health Association reports, plenty of people are getting sick with this season's bug. Fortunately there is time and there are ways of preventing the spread of the flu.
Flu shots are available locally from primary care providers as well as Grande Ronde Hospital and the Center for Human Development, both in La Grande. The hospital and the center are partnering to provide flu vaccinations free to anyone over the age of 6 months at clinics Feb. 13-14 and Feb. 18-21 at locations throughout Union County. Free flu shots also are available at CHD, 2301 Cove Ave., by appointment from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. or for walk-ins on Friday.
Grande Ronde Hospital infection preventionist Amy Miles said the hospital still is seeing a high number of people test positive for the flu, and 90% of those positive tests are for the Influenza B strain, which the flu shot protects against.
"We are definitely anxious to see flu numbers start trending down," Miles said.
CHD encourages flu shots and education about the flu through its immunization program, which offers low-cost or free vaccines to Union County residents. Elizabeth Sieders, the center's immunization coordinator, is part of those efforts to educate and inform Union County residents about the flu vaccination and prevention.
"Education is a huge piece of preventing the spread of disease," Sieders said in a video the center released. "It is important that we educate the community that vaccines are safe and educate them about the diseases that they prevent."
Certain communities are more vulnerable to the flu. For infants and the elderly it can be especially dangerous because of weakened immune systems. Students also are more likely to develop the flu because of the close quarters and prolonged exposure during the school day. Some local schools have seen a decrease in attendance due to the flu.
"We do the best we can to stay on top of it, but once it is airborne it can be really hard," Imbler Elementary school administrative assistant Wendy Crow said.
According to Crow, Imbler elementary had 23 of its 160 students out of school during December due to the flu. Other schools, such as Union elementary and La Grande, did not have such drastic attendance drops but have occasionally seen lower attendance. All of the schools reported they try to take measures to prevent further spread, including encouraging flu shots, keeping facilities clean and reminding parents to keep their children home when they start exhibiting symptoms.
Residents at Wildflower Lodge Assisted Living & Memory Care Community, La Grande, also have a higher likelihood of contracting the flu because of close quarters. But Wildfire community relations director Jenna Wright said the facility has not had a particularly high flu rate this season. She said many residents got their flu shots early, and if residents get sick, they are encouraged to stay in their apartments.
For non-vulnerable populations, according to the Centers for Disease and Control, the flu often is mild and does not require medical care or antiviral drugs. The CDC suggests staying home, getting rest and avoiding contact with others as the best ways to prevent further spread of the flu. If you suspect antiviral drugs are needed, the CDC said it is most effective to see your doctor earlier rather than later.
"Preventing disease rather than just reacting to outbreaks is the most cost effective way and efficient way to impact the health of our community," Sieders said.