Wash your hands! Flu season has officially hit Salem.

Salem Hospital (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Flu cases are on the rise in the Salem area, and health officials are urging people who haven’t gotten a flu vaccine this season to do so.

About 145 Willamette Valley residents tested positive for the flu the week of Dec. 8, the most recent data available from the Oregon Health Authority. However, the actual number of people sick with the flu is higher because not everyone seeks medical care when ill.

At Salem Hospital, about one in three patients with flu-like symptoms last week tested positive for a flu virus, spokesman Elijah Penner said. That’s an indication of a high level of flu in the area, he said.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Oregon among 19 U.S. states experiencing high levels of flu-like illness as of mid-December.

Nearly all Oregon cases are influenza B, a type of flu virus that mutates more slowly and is typically more common later in flu season.

Influenza A viruses are more common during flu season and more likely to cause outbreaks because of their quick-mutating nature. But both types of viruses cause similar symptoms and have similar hospitalization and fatality rates.

The type of virus now common means the flu vaccine is likely to be more effective since influenza B strains don’t change as much year to year.

Nancy Bee, nurse manager for Salem Hospital’s emergency department said the hospital has started flu precautions, including requiring masks for unvaccinated staff and limiting visitors to those over 12.

She urged people who haven’t been vaccinated to do so, especially considering the vaccine’s effectiveness.

“They nailed it,” she said.

The CDC has more information about the flu vaccine on their website.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.