Four additional flu-related deaths in Oklahoma were confirmed Thursday, and health departments are urging residents to take precautions against an “unusual” virus.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma City-County Health Department and the Tulsa Health Department are closely monitoring influenza activity across the state, and warn the number of deaths and hospitalizations are on the rise.
According to the CDC, influenza B/Victoria viruses are predominant nationally, which is unusual for this time of year, officials said.
“Oklahomans who haven’t received a vaccine yet should make it a priority as soon as possible,” a joint news release states. “The vaccine is one of the most important things we all can do for ourselves and/or our children to protect against the flu and/or reduce complications from the flu.”
Twelve deaths have been confirmed as flu-related since Sept. 1. Two of the newly confirmed victims were from Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, and two were from southeast Oklahoma, marking the first from the latter region, in both the 50-64 and 65-plus age groups, Oklahoma State Department of Health data shared Thursday show.
There have been 649 flu-related hospitalizations in the state since Sept. 1, including those who died, the data show, and Harmon County leads the state in hospitalization rate per capita. However, Tulsa County has had the most hospitalizations at 157 and Oklahoma County the second-most at 116.
Influenza spreads around the country every year, usually between October and May, via coughing, sneezing and close contact. Nearly 90 Oklahomans died during the flu season last year, and more than 3,000 were hospitalized. The flu strikes suddenly and can last several days, according to the Health Department. Symptoms vary by age but can include:
• Sore throat, cough
• Muscle aches, fatigue
• Headache, runny or stuffy nose
Symptoms can develop into more complex complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus and ear infections, and adversely affect those already suffering from a medical condition like heart or lung disease.
Officials urge those experiencing symptoms to consult with a primary care provider as soon as possible.
Prescribed antiviral drugs are more effective when initiated within 48 hours of noticing symptoms and could also be a prevention measure for especially vulnerable populations recently exposed to someone diagnosed with the flu.
The OSDH recommends patients be free of fever for at least 24 hours before leaving home again.
“Avoid all public places, including work, school and group events during this time,” the release states. “Staying home protects those around you, especially infants under the age of six months and adults with compromised immune systems who can develop severe complications if they are exposed to the influenza virus.”
Beyond those with symptoms staying home, the departments urge all Oklahomans to wash their hands often throughout each day with soap and warm water, especially after coughing or sneezing.