PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the beginning of the 2023-24 respiratory virus season underway, Oregon health officials and experts are telling residents how best to prepare.
At a media briefing on Thursday, the Oregon Health Authority’s medical director for communicable diseases and immunizations, Paul Cieslak, said Oregon has already seen a consistent increase in positive COVID-19 tests since the late spring.
From late May to mid-September, positive tests have grown from 4.3% to 15%. According to OHA, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has also doubled since June 21, when there were 106 hospitalizations per day.
However, COVID-19 isn’t the only respiratory virus affecting Oregonians. Last year, officials said there was a “respiratory virus trifecta” in which COVID-19, influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus all surged around the same time.
“If we see even a small surge in flu, COVID, RSV, or the three viruses at the same time, that could overwhelm an already very stretched health care system,” Kaiser Permanente Chief of Infectious Disease, Katie Sharff, said.
Because the flu vaccine updates annually, Sharff noted that it’s important for people over the age of six months to get a new flu one every year. She also said that only 50% of Oregonians got the vaccine in 2022.
Sharff said this year’s COVID-19 vaccine is different from last year’s, as well.
“The COVID vaccine this season is not necessarily considered a booster because it’s a completely reformulated strain to protect against the current circulating variants,” she said. “We really need to focus our efforts on vaccinating those individuals who are at highest risk or severe disease and hospitalization.”
People at high risk for severe diseases include elderly individuals, immuno-compromised residents with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, mostly affects the elderly and infants. According to Sharff, the virus was the leading cause for infant hospitalizations in 2022.8 But this year, there are new vaccines that can protect the public from RSV.
OHA advises people to contact their medical provider or use VaccineFinder.Org to get updated vaccines this respiratory virus season.
In addition to staying immunized, Cieslak recommended that people continue to wear masks in health care settings.