PORTLAND-- Oregon's flu season has spiked early, claiming at least seven lives and hospitalizing nearly 200 people.

One family talked with KGW about how the flu unexpectedly turned their holidays from joyful to agonizing.

The family of 45-year-old Kristen Feuz said they never dreamed they would be sitting in the hospital for days on end because of the flu. But she has been there since Jan. 1, and for a few days they thought they might lose her.

It was horrible, said her sister, Brock Mattila. There were definitely a few days when we thought she wouldn't make it. It's been really scary.

The family said Feuz developed common flu symptoms Dec. 27 that worsened into pneumonia on New Year's Eve. The next day she was rushed to the intensive care unit, where doctors were still working furiously Monday night to save her life.

State health officials said as of Monday evening that 179 people had been hospitalized for flu, compared to 33 for the same period last year.

Tri-County health officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said there s a lesson to be learned from the spike in cases: Everyone older than six months should get vaccinated.

Chances are it will prevent you from getting sick, she said. Even if you still get the flu, it could be that extra bit of protection to help you avoid hospitalization, and in a few cases even death.

Tune into the News at Four Tuesday as Dr. John East, Senior Pulmonologist and Intensivist with Saint Alphonsus Medical Group and Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, will be joining Carolyn to answer questions. He has seen a number of cases of H1N1 this year, giving him first-hand knowledge to share with you all. Have a question? Submit it here.

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