By SEAN ROWLEY
Oklahoma has recently fallen into the grip of flu season, and five people have already died from the virus.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 399 hospitalizations due to influenza between Sept. 29, 2013, and Jan. 14, 2014. During the week of Jan. 8-14 alone, there were 122 hospital admissions for flu.
On Jan. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported widespread flu activity in 41 states, including Oklahoma. Five people have been hospitalized for flu in Cherokee County – a rate of 10.4 cases per 100,000 people.
Cheri Oglesbee, infection control nurse at Tahlequah City Hospital, said the number of hospitalizations is about average for a flu season.
“Hospital admissions are just a gauge,” Oglesbee said. “Other people with the flu may visit a clinic or urgent care center. Others may treat themselves at home. We do get positive responses on rapid flu screenings when people visit our emergency room, but they aren’t so ill that they require hospitalization.”
In Oklahoma, 26 of 77 counties have reported flu hospitalizations. Hardest hit numerically is Cleveland County, with 20 cases including one death. Comanche County has had 17 cases, with two deaths. Kay County and LeFlore County have each reported one death. Hardest hit as a percentage of population are Greer County, with two cases (32.9 per 100,000), and Marshall County, with five cases (31.3 per 100,000).
The state health department also tracks reports of flu-like symptoms around Oklahoma. The percentage of patients who showed flu symptoms during visits to participating clinics or physicians was seven percent - above the baseline of four percent, but still less than the previous two flu seasons. None of the participating clinics or physicians are in Cherokee County.
Hand-washing a good preventive measure
Oglesbee said effective prevention of flu infection means being mindful of one’s hands.
“Keep your hands washed,” she said. “Keep your hands and fingers out of your eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Of course, people should consider getting flu vaccines, and not just the most at-risk like children and the elderly. Adults are the people who are often around children and caring for the elderly, so they need vaccines also.”
Oglesbee has often received questions about whether a booster is needed during flu season, and she said they are not.
“One flu shot will protect you through the entire season,” she said.
Those who suspect they are infected with influenza should visit a doctor as quickly as possible, Oglesbee said.
“The red flag symptoms are a sudden high fever and body aches and pains,” she said. “Your doctor can provide antivirals, which can reduce the severity of the symptoms.”
Oglesbee said those dealing with the flu should avoid other people and “cough properly.”
“We don’t cough into our hands anymore,” she said. “You cough into your hands, touch a shopping cart, the next person to touch the cart, and then their eyes or mouth, gets the disease. The flu virus is very hardy outside its hosts. You should cough into your sleeve or toward your elbow, which allows the droplets to be absorbed, or keeps them away from your hand.”
For more information about flu season in Oklahoma, visit www.ok.gov/health/index.html and click on the OK Flu View link.