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Flu cases decreasing, but Providence takes extra precautions

Southern Oregon’s flu season appears to have peaked the last week of December and is now slowly dissipating, public health officials reported Monday.

However, the number of local emergency room visits because of influenza-like illnesses is still higher than the state average.

Between Jan. 11 and Jan. 17, an average of 3.92 percent of emergency room visits statewide were due to flu-like illnesses, compared with 5.18 percent of ER visits in Jackson County, said Tanya Phillips, the county’s health promotions manager.

That’s down from 5.32 percent countywide in December.

But this week, those numbers seemed to have decreased slightly, Phillips said.

In light of the widespread flu activity statewide, Providence Medford Medical Center is prohibiting youths 18 and younger from visiting patients in the hospital, limiting the number of visitors per patient to two, and encouraging staff to wear gowns, masks, gloves and goggles, if necessary, to prevent spreading the virus from patient to patient.

The increased restrictions went into effect Friday at all Providence Health & Services centers across the state, said Hillary Brown, the Medford hospital’s public affairs coordinator.

Providence staff also reported a “plateau” in the number of flu-like illnesses treated in the hospital’s ER this week.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County's health officer, said flu symptoms include fever and muscle aches often accompanied by upper respiratory problems.

“It’s never too late to get a flu shot,” he said. “Of course, the earlier in the season you get it, the more likely you are to be protected. If you’re sick, isolate yourself from others, and if you’re well, avoid contact with people who are sick.”

Unfortunately, this year’s flu vaccine was not as effective as health professionals would have liked, Shames said.

“This year, the strain of flu virus (H3N1) that became predominant in North America was different from the one chosen for the vaccine,” he said. “But that doesn't mean you don’t get any protection from it. There are still similarities between the viruses. It’s just not a great match.”

The H3N1 strain, Shames said, is particularly strong, so those with symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately for antiviral medication.

 Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.