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State, schools battle familiar flu

The recent norovirus outbreak at Rock Creek Elementary in Beaverton doesn’t necessarily mean other schools are at risk.

“We’re not alerting other schools,” says Jennifer Vines, deputy health officer for the tricounty region. “Schools tend to know when the season is, and we’re in the thick of it now.”

Vines and other public health experts say the message to schoolchildren, as well as everyone is: If you’re sick, stay home.

There’s good news and bad news about the flu this year. On the downside, it hasn’t yet quite reached its peak in Oregon yet — it could last another four to six weeks. On the bright side, it is a strain of flu that is familiar: the H1N1 virus, having debuted in 2008-09.

That was a “pandemic year,” public health officials say, when there was no vaccine that matched the virus until the flu was on its way out.

“This year, the vaccine matches perfectly,” says Ann Thomas, a public health physician with the state’s Emerging Infections Program.

It’s the same H1N1 strain that’s been around for the past four years, so “we have a lot of experience with it from a safety standpoint,” Thomas says. “It’s a safe vaccine.”

The flu season this year hit Oregon a bit earlier than usual, and is affecting young people at a higher rate, according to Vines. In other years it’s hit people age 65 and up the hardest.

“The main message is, it’s never too late to get vaccinated,” Vines says.

Even with the impact on young people, the schools haven’t seen a spike in absences. “So far, we seem to be doing fine — fingers crossed,” says Christine Miles,

a PPS spokeswoman, noting that the the flu is notoriously unpredictable.

The schools are taking basic precautions, Miles says: “Teachers, staff and administrators are always reminding students this time of year to repeatedly wash their hands and do polite coughing to help keep kids from spreading any type of cold or

illness.”

To find a flu clinic or learn more: www.flu.oregon.gov