Flu season quickly getting worse in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Flu season has suddenly picked up speed in Oregon.

H1N1 is back, and it's as strong as ever.

But this year, unlike the pandemic year of 2009, there's a difference: The flu vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain of influenza.

Flu season came on late at the end of 2013. The week of Christmas, 81 people were admitted to Oregon hospitals for the flu. There were only 18 cases two weeks earlier. Most have H1N1.

"We'll see increasing amounts of the disease for the next few weeks before it peaks," said Dr. Joe Berees, a flu expert for the Centers for Disease Control. "More people will get it and more people will get severely ill."

H1N1 was called the "swine flu" in 2009, when a worldwide pandemic killed nearly 300,000 people. It's a combination of swine, bird and human influenza strains.

But H1N1 is also different because it doesn't just go after people with weakened immune systems, or the elderly and very young. A disproportionate number of people infected with H1N1 are young and healthy.

"A lot of these younger people may not be vaccinated," said Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Public Health division.

That means more people might be carriers and have the potential to spread it around.

But this year, the flu vaccine protects from H1N1, and it's not too late to get vaccinated. Yet roughly half the U.S. population hasn't gotten a flu shot yet.

"It lowers you risk of getting sick, getting hospitalized and even dying of the flu by about 50 to 75 percent," said Dr. Berees.

If you choose not to get a flu shot, studies have shown there are a few things you can do to keep from getting sick. First, stay away from sick people and wash your hands regularly. Perhaps even more importantly, don't let your hands touch your face.

A recent report also found a few other things could help: get plently of sleep, eat lots of produce, exercise regularly, and stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.