Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Various flu-like illnesses have cut their way through the student population at Baker High School - as well as the football team - "like a knife through butter," said Dave Johnson, coach of the Bulldogs.

While the team handily beat North Bend on Saturday to win the Class 4A state championship, the health of some team members appeared shaky days before the game.

"There were kids vomiting for days," Johnson said. "It went from one kid to the next, to the next, then, to the next."

Some of the student athletes were so ill they required emergency care, he said.

Once game time arrived, however, "we didn't have anybody throwing up," Johnson said.

Flu-related absences from Baker area schools started in mid-November. Most of the children were out only a day or two, according to the district.

Adults have been getting sick too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict this year's flu season could be one of the worst in nearly a decade. Cases have started surfacing earlier this season than in recent years.

The flu can prove deadly to some people: Three Idaho women simply described as older than 50 have died from the flu already this year, according to that state's Department of Health and Welfare.

On the postive side, a significant number of people have been vaccinated this year: about one-third of the U.S. population. And the vaccine is thought to be effective against the three major strains of the flu going around this season, the CDC also reports.

Seniors are one of the groups most vulnerable to flu-related health complications. They are urged to get vaccinated.

At Community Connection senior center in Baker City, there was an increase in the number of older residents who obtained flu shots late last month during a county vaccination clinic, said Mary Jo Carpenter, senior center director.

"It could be very dangerous for seniors to get the flu," she said. "It can turn into something much worse," she said. "We provide information to them and work with the (county) health department."

The health department's phone number is 541-523-8211.

Staff members at the center are encouraged to get vaccinated so they don't inadvertently spread the flu to seniors engaging in the variety of activities that go on there, Carpenter said.

Youth, especially children ages 6 and younger, pregnant women and people with health problems and certain disabilities also are more likely to suffer serious health complications as a result of contracting the flu than the general adult population.

Vaccinations are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older because there is plenty of vaccine to go around.

St. Alphonsus Health System offers flu shots at virtually every one of its care facilities in the region. Its care providers must get vaccinated, according to a group spokeswoman based in Boise.

When it comes to flu prevention, "we do an enormous amount of public outreach, we give advice and answer people's questions," said Elizabeth Duncan, public relations director for St. Alphonsus.

Carpenter and Duncan encouraged people to not behave in ways that might spread the virus to others.

Stay home if you're not feeling well. You'll spread your germs around and potentially do harm to someone with a more fragile immune system than you.

"Cover you nose and mouth when you cough," Duncan said.

And wash your hands frequently.

"Your fingers are germ beacons," she said. "Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your fingers."

And don't go out until you've seemed well for at least a full day because you might still be contagious.

Tips from the CDC and Oregon Health Authority

The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.

andbull; Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

andbull; Stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

andbull; Practice other good health habits - Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

Visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/ for details.