During the fourth week of January more than 70 influenza-associated hospitalizations were reported by the Oregon Public Health Division (down slightly from more than 100 the previous week). During week four more than 5,000 specimens were tested for influenza and more than 1,300 were confirmed. Of those confirmed, 55 percent were Influenza A and 42 percent were Influenza B.

There are four types of influenza viruses, but only three affect humans, including A, B, and C. Influenza A and B cause our seasonal epidemics during winter months in the U.S. This year’s flu season has been rumored to be one of the worst despite increased flu-shot recipients. Flu virus strains are constantly changing and evolving making absolute determination of effectiveness of the vaccine difficult.

Scientists prevail at providing research driven data to support their theories in protecting citizens, however absolute prediction is not possible according to the Centers for Disease Control. Research-driven projections indicate the likelihood of the specific types of influenza strains which may impact a given season and then flu-shot vaccines are created and administered as a result of that research.

This season’s strain has a reputation of being nasty and if you or someone you know has already contracted the flu this season you understand the term "nasty" with an entirely new meaning. Children seem to be the hardest hit this season, according to many reports, and parents should be especially concerned if their child has a high fever. We are seeing a strong virus with a less-than-effective vaccine.

Instead of the flu hitting the entire U.S. at staggered rates — meaning instead of it sweeping across one state to the next, it appears to have hit all states simultaneously — creating a larger havoc.

Rumors indicate this season’s flu first appeared in November and stretched into the holidays, making its spread more significant as families and friends gathered together to celebrate.

What you can do to help prevent the common and flu:

• It is not too late to get a flu-shot vaccine. The CDC recommends annual vaccination as the first and foremost critical step in protection against flu viruses. Vaccines are readily available throughout Jackson County, including your via your personal primary care physician. Jackson County Health and Human Services offers an appointment free immunization clinic Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Medford. Visit their website for more information at jacksoncountyor.org.

• Drink plenty of water or other hydration, replenishing fluids such as Gatorade, coconut water, etc. Vomiting and diarrhea are often associated symptoms of colds and flu; therefore being hydrated reduces the risk of dehydration from these symptoms.

• Wash your hands often with soap for 20-30 seconds, being certain to scrub around fingers and the backs of the hands. Using alcohol-based sanitizer is also shown to be effective in reducing the spread of germs.

• If you can avoid contact with those who are already sick you are less likely to contract a virus from them. Avoid touching your own eyes and mouth once in contact with a sick person and throughout flu season.

The flu can affect each individual differently. Mitigation efforts including getting a flu-shot vaccine, hand washing and proper hydration will serve you well, and if you do contract the flu, treat the symptoms and get plenty of rest. Proper mitigation is everyone’s best defense.

—The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Terri Eubanks is Ashland Fire & Rescue Community Preparedness Coordinator. Email her at terri.eubanks@ashland.or.us.