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Flu shots (copy) (copy)

Even as we look forward to the spring, which is scheduled to start at 2:58 p.m. Wednesday, we still have some winter-related business to get through:

First, Oregon (and much of the rest of the nation) remains in the grip of another particularly nasty flu season. The heartbreaking news from Portland last week about the death of a 37-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn child serves to underline the fact that influenza A isn't something to take lightly.

Typically, flu season stretches from October to May, so even as the weather warms, we still have another six weeks or so to go before we're out of the woods. Remember that flu season isn't confined to cold-weather months.

The most recent statistics from the Oregon Health Authority show that about 4.1 percent of the visits to hospital emergency rooms during the first few days of March were because of influenza-like illnesses. This year's flu season already matches the totals seen in 2016-17 and could come close to the marks set last year. 

The vast majority of the cases reported in Oregon are from influenza A — and this year's flu vaccine is only about 46 percent effective against that variant of the virus, which means that if you get vaccinated, it reduces your chance of getting the flu by about 46 percent on average. (The Portland woman who died had been vaccinated.) Still, if you haven't been vaccinated this season, you might want to give it some thought, because the vaccine can reduce the severity of symptoms and the possibility of complications if you do come down with the illness.

In the meantime, follow all the other advice you hear all winter long about keeping the virus at bay: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Keep your distance, if at all possible, from sick people.

If you do come down with influenza, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

that you stay home for at least 24 hours and keep contact with other people at a minimum. Contact a health care professional quickly; antiviral drugs are available.

People with influenza don't necessarily need to report to a hospital, but the CDC recommends seeking emergency health care if symptoms include trouble breathing, bluish lips or skin, persistent chest pain or muscle pain, or dehydration and high fever.

Influenza is a serious illness, and we need to treat it that way. There's no need to take a chance with this killer.

The other winter-related news is considerably more cheerful: A string of late-winter storms in February doubled the amount of snow on the ground in many locations across Oregon, and that dramatically improved the water-supply outlook for this spring and summer. Many locations around the state received more than twice the usual amount of precipitation during February.

As a result, the stream-flow forecasts for most of Oregon are calling for normal or above-normal levels this spring and summer — and that's good news for everyone who relies on adequate water supplies in our streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, which is to say, all of us.

This good news comes, of course, with an asterisk: The next few weeks will tell the tale for water supply. If we get a burst of cool and somewhat stormy early-spring weather, then water supplies should be adequate. But sustained warm periods and long stretches of dry weather could renew drought fears.

So, yes, we welcome spring — and this recent stretch of sunny 70-degree days has been a pleasant break from an unusually chilly February. With that said, though, we wouldn't mind a return to more seasonal norms — especially if it would help to ensure adequate water in the mid-valley well into the summer. (mm)

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