Oregon is experiencing an unusually late flu season that’s primarily affecting people older than 50, according to reports from the Oregon Health Authority.
Of the 144 cases of influenza reported in the Portland metro area this week, about 100 of them occurred in people over the age of 50. Almost 60 of those were 65 or older.
The 65-plus set comprises 56% of all flu cases reported in Oregon so far this year, the health department reports. That’s a 627 cases from a total of 1,123 since Jan. 1.
The most widely affected group after that is the population between 50 and 64 years old, which accounts for 259 of reported flu cases this year, or 23%.
The state tracked 20 outbreaks over the last week, 16 of which began in long-term care facilities for the elderly.
Flu cases in Oregon typically begin to taper off in late February and early March, according to historical data from the health department. But this year, reported cases have risen steadily since early February.
The agency tracks this by measuring the percentage of emergency room visits across 19 hospitals across the state.
Over the last week, nearly 5% of emergency room visits across the state were flu-related. That’s the highest rate for this time of year since 2012, when around 4% of emergency room visits were flu-related in the last week of March.
Flu season usually peaks in late December and early January, according to health department figures. Not so this time around.
The disease saw an uptick in cases toward the end of 2018 and in the early weeks of 2019. But it wasn’t until February that emergency room visits for flu symptoms spiked, accounting for just under 2% in the final week of January and topping out at nearly 5% in the last couple of weeks.
Although this season hasn’t proven nearly as deadly as 2018’s — about 80,000 people in the U.S. died of the flu last year, the Associated Press reported — the disease has still hospitalized more than 300 people in the last two weeks alone. It was also the cause of one pediatric death this month.
The flu was also the cause of death for a 37-year-old Oregon woman who was pregnant with her third child. The strain that killed Stephanie Shradar is influenza A, which has accounted for more than 98% of cases in Oregon hospitals this year, according to the health department.
This year’s flu shot has little protection against the strain, which has contributed to its rise in recent months. Oregon health officials say this season has now matched numbers seen in 2016-17 and may exceed them to be close to last year.
A fever is one of the disease’s telltale signs, as are chills, headaches and other pains that come on suddenly.( A gradual accumulation of symptoms, on the other hand, is usually indicative of a cold.)
Rest and sleep are typically enough to combat a minor bout with the illness. But those with worsening symptoms, who have a weak immune system or are 65 or older can seek medicine to avoid more serious symptoms.