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Oklahoma flu hospitalizations, deaths could exceed recent years

Oklahoma City — This year's flu is on track to put more people in the hospital than in recent years, and a more severe strain of the disease is gaining ground.

Statewide, 2,014 people were hospitalized for flu between the season's beginning in September and Tuesday. More than 400 of them ended up in the hospital in the last week. The state has recorded 74 flu-related deaths so far.

In Oklahoma County, 380 people have been hospitalized and five have died, according to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

Flu activity still appears to be increasing statewide, said Kendra Dougherty, an epidemiologist at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Even if the flu does peak soon, the number of hospitalizations could easily double before the season ends, she said.

Last year, about 2,400 people were hospitalized over the course of the season, and more than 100 died, Dougherty said.

Unfortunately, the H3N2 virus seems to be spreading more widely in Oklahoma than it was earlier in the season, Dougherty said. That strain typically causes more severe problems, particularly in older adults, young children and people with chronic conditions.

While people who at higher risk need to be especially careful, young adults can't assume they don't need to worry, Dougherty said. Three adults younger than 50 died recently from flu in Oklahoma. In some cases, the immune system overreacts to the flu and damages organs, killing people who would have survived the virus, she said.

“We see that type of person every single year,” she said. “Anyone can die from the flu.”

If you haven't gotten a flu shot, you should still get one, but take care in the clinic, Dougherty said. Avoid touching your face, don't stand close to someone who is coughing and use hand sanitizer frequently, she said.

If you do get sick, cover your cough and avoid other people as much as possible. Vulnerable people should also ask for antiviral medication, ideally within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms, Dougherty said.

“If you feel like you have the flu, you need to immediately call your physician,” she said.

Flu shots are available from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon Friday at the following locations:

OCCHD Gary Cox Partner Building, 2700 NE 63
South Regional Health Campus, 2149 SW 59
OCCHD West Clinic, 4113 NW 10

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Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›