State reports first flu deaths of season

Nathan Thompson

Two people have died as a result of influenza in Oklahoma, the State Department of Health announced last week.

According to the report, both deaths occurred in patients who were over the age of 65, but additional details on the patients’ location were not released citing privacy concerns.

While there have not yet been any flu-related hospitalizations reported in Osage, Washington or Pawnee counties, other neighboring counties haven’t been as lucky. According to statistics from the Health Department, there have been 23 hospitalizations in Tulsa County, one in Kay County and one in Pawnee County.

In total, the Health Department said there have been 105 hospitalizations in Oklahoma so far this season. Jamie Dukes, public information officer for the State Department of Health, said the number of patients who have been diagnosed with flu is concerning.

“The number of flu cases is relatively high for this time of year, and public health officials are concerned there will be a high risk of spreading the flu during the holiday season,” Dukes said. “The highest number of flu-related hospitalizations has occurred among those who are older than 50 years of age, as well as children younger than 5, which are both groups at greater risk of experiencing severe illness and complications due to flu.”

Officials remind Oklahomans that it is still very early in the flu season and flu shots are still available.

“The single best way to protect against flu and its consequences is to get the flu vaccine,” Dukes said. “Many local county health departments, pharmacies and health care providers have the vaccine. Health officials urge everyone 6 months of age and older to get the vaccine to protect themselves and those around them from influenza, especially babies too young to receive a vaccination.”

The State Department of Health said it takes about two weeks after getting a flu shot for a person’s immune system to respond and provide defenses against influenza viruses.

Those who already have the flu can spread it to others even before they feel sick, the report said. Dukes said those who have a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue need to visit their doctor as soon as possible.

“It is important for those experiencing flu-like symptoms to consult with a health care provider as soon as possible,” Dukes said. “Antiviral drugs may be prescribed to treat the flu. These drugs work better for treatment when started within 48 hours of noticing symptoms.”

Certain people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications. Young children, elderly persons, pregnant women and people with some long-term medical conditions are reminded to contact their health care provider as soon as they develop flu symptoms.