Why Was Oregon’s Flu Season So Mild?

Taking basic precautions can help on the margins, but there are no guarantees.

Crowds at the Winter Lights Festival last February. (Brian Burk)

Has your vast medical education given you any insight as to why (according to the Oregon Health Authority) our most recent flu season in Oregon has been so mild compared to previous years? —Curious George

The folks at the CDC, in spite of their role in the woke liberal conspiracy to deny Americans their God-given right to die of measles, do a pretty good job of tracking the kind of thing you’re talking about, George. According to them, the current flu season (it’s technically not over till September) was neither mild nor severe, but right-down-the-middle moderate. How boring!

But that’s just the assessment for the United States as a whole. As you and the OHA (and I, since I totally knew and certainly did not learn about it just now) have observed, in Oregon the severity of this season’s flu stayed at “minimal” or “low” during every week but one. Interesting! Only two other states (Minnesota and Vermont) managed a similar feat this year.

How? It’s tempting for us card-carrying weenie-liberal fans of Dr. Fauci to give these states a pat on their big blue backs. Obviously, we beat the flu because our people believe in science, and masking, and vaccination! Suck it, Meatball Ron!

Unfortunately, it’s probably not that simple. Oregon’s flu vaccination rate is pretty decent, but we’re a good five percentage points behind reigning champs New York, and they still hit the high end of the severity spectrum last winter. So did our fellow socialist utopias Washington and California. Meanwhile, when you look at the county-by-county breakdown, mask-skeptical Southern Oregon stayed just as flu-free as we did up here in the Leninist Shangri-La of Portland.

It gets worse: Last year’s winner of the no-flu sweepstakes was live-free-or-die New Hampshire, where Republicans control both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion. The year before that? On-the-bubble swing state Michigan. In other words, we probably just got lucky: Much of flu’s severity (or lack thereof) is driven by random chance.

The timing of superspreader events, a change in the weather just as the disease is getting a toehold, the immunological makeup of the region’s population—any of these can be the difference between a few sniffles and a veritable plague. Taking basic precautions can help on the margins, but there are no guarantees. (That said, states whose governors encourage licking bus station doorknobs as an act of patriotism will always have an uphill climb.)

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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