Flu hitting earlier than usual

A hand sanitation and mask station is set up in the lobby of St. Anthony Hospital last year in Pendleton.

Emergency rooms and pharmacy counters are filling up while classrooms and workplaces are looking sparse.

It must be flu season.

In Umatilla County, hospitals and the health department are reporting an earlier than usual spike in influenza cases.

Larry Blanc of St. Anthony Hospital reported Friday that since Jan. 1 the Pendleton hospital had 23 positive tests and has instituted a visitation restriction, barring most visitors under the age of 12 and requiring masks for anyone showing symptoms of the flu.

At Good Shepherd Health Center, Hermiston, the flu season (starting Oct. 1) has seen 182 positive tests and three admissions for flu so far, compared to 10 last year.

About five percent of hospital admissions statewide are flu related, according to Umatilla County Health Director Jim Setzer, compared to four percent at this time last year.

But Setzer said head counts at hospitals don’t give an accurate count of how many are under the weather, as many people stay at home to deal with the illness.

In Pendleton schools, the week started with a 90 percent attendance rate on Monday, a couple of points below average but was back to normal by Thursday. Administrator Matt Yoshioka said teachers, however, were calling in sick by the end of the week and by Friday there were not enough substitutes to cover for all the classes. The district was able to fill in with secondary teachers taking classes during their prep periods and classified staff who are accredited substitutes stepping in at the elementary schools.

Setzer said this year’s vaccine appears to not be as good at preventing the virus as previous years, but it has shown the ability to ease and shorten symptoms.

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