It’s not too late to get vaccinated

Health officials recommend people get flu vaccines, which are considered the most effective way to avoid catching the virus.

Flu vaccines are still available through primary care providers, pharmacies and local school health centers. Appointments for flu vaccines can also be made at Deschutes County Health Services by calling 541-322-7400.

Central Oregon is experiencing a severe flu season, with 34 percent of flu tests at St. Charles Health System coming back positive for the illness.

The increase in flu cases has pushed the hospitals to capacity. All 349 beds in Bend, Redmond, Madras and Prineville hospitals are occupied.

“All of our hospitals are full right now and it appears to be flu-related,” said Lisa Goodman, St. Charles spokeswoman.

Hospital visitors are being urged to stop at the main entrances and use hand-sanitizing stations. Visitors who are feeling sick are encouraged to stay home, and if they must visit to support a patient, they are instructed to wear masks.

Caregivers experiencing flu-like symptoms or who have the flu must stay home and cannot return to work until they are flu-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medications, according to the St. Charles caregiver illness policy.

And if caregivers return from the flu, but have a lingering cough, they must wear masks.

In addition, caregivers who have not received a flu shot must always wear masks, the policy states.

With the area hospitals at capacity, new patients are being seen and treated in nontraditional areas, including waiting rooms.

At St. Charles Bend, the double doors between the Bend Emergency Department and Community Pharmacy are closed to provide more privacy for patients.

Patients are unable to be transferred to other hospitals, because hospitals are full across Oregon and Washington, in part because of flu-related patients.

Julie Ostrom, director of patient flow at St. Charles, said the local hospitals had similar difficulties transferring patients last winter, but it was due to the historic snowfall.

“We experienced similar capacity constraints last year driven by the weather and road conditions,” Ostrom said. “We were not able to move patients out of the area.”

A total of 102 Deschutes County residents checked themselves into emergency rooms across the state last week due to the flu, double the amount from this time last year, according to Jennifer Faith, Deschutes County Health Service epidemiologist.

“That is higher than we saw all year and all last year,” Faith said.

Emergency room visits increased across all age groups, especially those 18 and older, Faith said.

For example, 18 Deschutes County residents between 18 and 64 years old checked into emergency rooms the week before Christmas for the flu. The next week, the number increased to 89, Faith said.

“We saw a bigger jump in the emergency room visits than we have before,” Faith said. “That is kind of concerning.”

Deschutes County Health Services tracks flu cases by how many people are being tested, and how many tests are positive for the flu.

Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 6, the most recent data, 688 tests were done in Deschutes County and 189, or 27.5 percent, were positive. The week before, 705 tests were done and 212, or 30.1 percent, were positive.

Statewide, the Oregon Health Authority found 35 percent of tests were positive for the flu this week.

The number of flu cases could continue to rise in Central Oregon, since flu season traditionally does not peak until the end of January in the region.

Kari Coe, director of infection prevention at St. Charles, said the region appears to be following the rest of Oregon in having higher numbers of flu cases earlier in the season.

“In Central Oregon, our flu season’s heaviest peak is always in January. But it’s toward the end of January,” Coe said. “This has definitely arrived earlier for these kinds of numbers.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the percentage of patients hospitalized for flu. The Bulletin regrets the error.