A spike in flu cases is straining the Rogue Valley health care system, including Mercy Flights ambulance service. [File photo]
Jackson County has been hit early by flu cases that are circulating widely and straining the health care system, including ambulance services.
Jackson County Public Health and the medical transport nonprofit Mercy Flights, which operates ground and air service, issued a warning this week about high flu rates.
“Every component of our regional health system is strained right now, and that includes Mercy Flights’ mobile health care services,” Mercy Flights Chief Executive Officer Sheila Clough said in a press release. “We are currently experiencing higher demand than we’ve seen over the last year and a half, and we anticipate we’re just on the front end of this wave. This high volume of patient needs has a regionwide impact, resulting in longer response times.”
She said public health, hospital and first responder partners are working together to more efficiently transfer patients to hospitals.
“We’re also working closely with our local fire agency partners to increase capacity to respond to 911 calls and transports where possible,” Clough said.
She said people can take steps to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses like the flu, which in turn helps emergency medical services.
After years of dealing with the COVID-19 virus, many people are weary of precautions.
“I want to acknowledge the emotions that people may be feeling during this flu season,” Dr. Leona O’Keefe, health officer for Jackson County Public Health, said in the press release. “It’s understandable for people to be tired of hearing about viruses. Others may feel angry or scared. But the viruses are here, and our individual decisions can add up to a collective difference for all of us. Thank you for what you choose to do to help yourself, your loved ones and your neighbors.”
Influenza A(H3N2) is the dominant flu strain circulating this season. That strain is associated with more severe cases of the flu in children and senior citizens, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Flu activity in Oregon and across the nation has increased rapidly and earlier than in previous years, public health officials said.
While seasonal flu viruses are detected year-round in the United States, cases tend to increase in October, peak between December and February and continue as late as May, public health officials said.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and sometimes lead to death. Flu is different from the common cold or “stomach flu.”
The flu usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms may include fever, feeling feverish or chilly, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue. Some people, especially children, may have vomiting and diarrhea.
People at higher risk of severe illness from influenza include people age 65 years or older, children under the age of 5, those who are pregnant and people with chronic medical conditions or weak immune systems.
To help prevent the spread of the flu, public health officials advise:
- Get vaccinated. Everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu shot every season with rare exceptions, especially those at risk of severe complications from the flu. Flu shots are available through medical providers, pharmacies or Jackson County Public Health. To find a flu vaccine clinic near you, see vaccines.gov/find-vaccines or call 211.
- Wear a mask indoors in public places during flu season.
- Stay home and limit contact with others if you’re sick, including staying home from work or school. The CDC recommends people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone unless they are accessing medical care.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water aren’t available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them.
- Get tested for respiratory infections and take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. Antiviral drugs can help prevent serious illness and hospitalization. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it is.
People should watch for warning signs of serious illness from the flu and seek medical help right away if symptoms emerge.
Warning signs in children include fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish lips or face, ribs pulling in with each breath, chest pain, severe muscle pain, signs of dehydration like not urinating or not producing tears while crying, not being alert or interacting when awake, seizures, fever above 104 degrees in children or any fever of 100.4 degrees or higher among babies less than 3 months old and a fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen, as well as worsening of chronic medical conditions.
Warning signs in adults include difficulty breathing or shortness of breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, persistent dizziness or confusion, inability to awaken, seizures, not urinating, severe weakness or unsteadiness and a fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen, as well as worsening of chronic medical conditions.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.