The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported the first death caused by the flu in the state on Thursday.

The death reportedly occurred in Tulsa County in a patient who was 65 years of age or older. As of Oct. 31, there have been 53 influenza-associated hospitalizations statewide. Persons of all ages have been hospitalized, however, the highest rate has been among individuals 50 years of age and older.

“Every year the people who are more at risk of hospitalization tend to be over 65. That just seems to be the epidemiology of flu in a community,” said Mendy Spohn, Regional Administrative Director for the Carter County Health Department.

Elderly individuals are typically more at risk due to weaker immune systems, underlying health conditions, chronic illnesses, or respiratory problems. “We really tell everyone over the age of six months to get the shot because anybody can get the flu, but primarily the largest proportion of deaths do come from patients over 65 years of age,” Spohn said.

The flu becomes deadly when it advances into a more severe illness, often limiting breathing and body functions and leading to hospitalization, she said.

“Every year the flu causes deaths in Oklahoma and across the world,” Spohn said. “The flu can cause major issues with respiratory, it can have secondary diseases that co-occur with it. It just makes it easier for you to catch things.”

Because those who have the flu can spread it to others before they even feel sick, health officials urge everyone six months and older to get the vaccine to protect not only themselves, but those around them.

Individuals should also remember to practice good hygiene, including washing hands often and covering coughs, Spohn said, adding that those experiencing symptoms should stay home from work or school.

“It’s just a part of protecting those around you,” Spoon said. “Those you work with, your family members, maybe those you go to school with or church with, that are unable to take the vaccine or might have underlying conditions where if they get the flu, it would make the illness more severe for them.”

All county health departments, including the Carter County Health Department, are providing flu vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost. Individuals can visit the local health department at 405 S. Washington Street.