The state’s first flu-related death was recorded in early December. That number has risen to three total since.
The Center of Disease Control recently labeled Oklahoma as being “widespread” with flu. Oklahoma ranks 8th nationally for flu cases, though cases are considerably down compared to previous years, according to the CDC.
“We’ve seen a lot of the flu picking up near the end of December,” Scott Cooper, physicians assistant at Mercy Kids, Mercy Hospital-Ardmore, said. “In my experience, it hasn’t been as bad as previous years. I think a lot of that is due to the milder season and a better flu vaccine. I think that has helped to decrease the prevalence. We’ve done a pretty good job of containing it this year.”
Annual flu vaccines tend to focus on specific strains, according to Lorraine Acevedo, local emergency response coordinator at Carter County Health Department. This season’s vaccine targets primarily the A strain, which according to the CDC tends to be the most deadly, while strains tend to change each year, multiply strains can be active in any given season.
“The earlier in the season you get the shot, the better protected you are against it,” Acevedo said. “We still encourage people to get the flu shot, even if it’s mid-season.”
Flu shots generally cost about $25, but may very depending on insurance options and availability of free shots and location. Some area entities offer free shots when available.
“The problem with the flu virus is that it usually likes dryer, cooler weather,” she said. “Since this is a virus that’s spread by droplets, we are usually closer together during this season. And it’s very contagious. If you are sitting next to someone with the flu and they sneeze, you will probably get it.”
Recent flu scares surrounding the H1N1 virus and the swine flu have gone a long way in spreading awareness Acevedo said.
“Education and prevention has helped lower the causes for a pandemic,” she said. “We’ve gotten better at spreading the word about flu prevention. It is serious, it’s not just a cold. You can die from this.”
Acevedo said advancements in science has also improved the ability to identify specific strains early enough in the season that the appropriate vaccine can be produced prior to “peak season.”
Cooper said that in-patients treatments were down significantly at Mercy, but out-patient treatment were trending higher than the norm.
“While the symptoms are more widespread, the severity hasn’t been as bad,” he said. “People should perceive this as people are doing better at prevention and not that the flu is going away.”
While awareness efforts are ongoing, Cooper said simply being aware of symptoms and being proactive when they begin to manifest can prevent prolonged issues with the virus.
“You’ve got to catch flu symptoms within the first 48-72 hours of onset. If you can catch it and treat it your chances of getting over it are much better,” he said. “After that 72 hour period, it doesn’t matter what you do, you just have to ride it out.”
Cooper said common misconceptions about the flu shot often leads some to forgo the vaccination putting themselves and ultimately everyone they come into contact with if infected at an increased risk of contracting a flu virus.
“The flu shot is a dead virus,” Cooper said. “You’re body may have a dramatic response, but you’re still getting the benefit of the vaccine, you’re not getting the flu from it.”
According to the CDC, flu can range from a very mild to serious, sometimes fatal illness. Symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly. Symptoms may include high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and extreme tiredness. Less often nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea can also occur, especially in children.
The CDC recommends flu vaccination for everyone over the age of 6 months.