NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Oklahoma flu season hospitalizes 32 so far, no deaths reported

Flu season has arrived in Oklahoma, and some area locations are giving out flu shots for free. [Thinkstock image]
Flu season has arrived in Oklahoma, and some area locations are giving out flu shots for free. [Thinkstock image]

Oklahoma City — The flu has started its annual tradition of making people miserable, but it's far too early to know whether we'll see a repeat of last year's deadly season.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health recorded 32 hospitalizations with complications of influenza between Sept. 1 and Oct. 23. So far, it hasn't reported any deaths from flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate about 80,000 people died of flu complications last season. Most were 65 or older.

Free flu shots are available for some this week. The Oklahoma Caring Vans offer free vaccines to children who are uninsured, eligible for Medicaid or American Indian. They will stop from 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Latino Community Development Agency, 420 SW 10, and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Iglesia de los Santoa Angeles, 317 N Blackwelder.

The Oklahoma City VA Hospital will offer free shots to veterans from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. It asks veterans to use the north parking lot on NE 16 to access the clinic. High-dose shots are available for those who are 65 or older.

Dr. Doug Drevets, an infectious disease specialist at OU Medicine, said last season's flu caused an unusually high number of deaths. Initially, that was blamed on a poor match between the strains of flu in the vaccine and the viruses circulating, but the vaccine actually worked about as well as usual. At least part of the issue was that only 37 percent of American adults got the shot, which was a low rate compared to recent years, he said.

It's too early to be sure what kind of flu season is in store for Oklahoma, but people need to start paying attention to washing their hands, avoiding sick people and covering their own coughs and sneezes, Drevets said. If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home until you've been fever-free for at least one day, he said.

While the vaccine isn't perfect, it reduces the odds of getting sick or developing a serious complication if you do get the flu, Drevets said. It's particularly important to vaccinate school-age children, because they can spread the virus to people at a higher risk of complications, like their grandparents, he said.

Contrary to popular belief, the vaccine can't cause the flu. The shot contains dead viruses, which train the immune system to identify the real thing if exposed to it. Anyone older than six months can get it, unless they have had a serious reaction to vaccines in the past, Drevets said.

“You do not get the flu from a dead vaccine,” he said.

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 ›