The first pediatric flu-related death in the state this season has been confirmed, Oklahoma State Department of Health data released Thursday shows.
The patient, in the age range of newborn to 4, joined seven other Oklahomans whose flu-related deaths were announced this week, bringing the state’s victim total since September to 20.
Health officials urged residents last week to take precautions against the virus as influenza activity across the state increased, saying that getting vaccinated is one of the most important steps residents can take to protect themselves and others from the flu or reduce its complications.
“Oklahomans who haven’t received a vaccine yet should make it a priority as soon as possible,” a news release stated.
Three of the newly confirmed victims were age 18-49, along with three age 50-64 and one 65 or older, according to the data.
This week marks the first time this season victims have been confirmed in all regions of Oklahoma, including central and southwest Oklahoma, along with the additional deaths being reported in Oklahoma County, southeast and northwest Oklahoma.
No additional deaths were reported in Tulsa County or northeast and east central Oklahoma. Tulsa County has 210 cases reported.
More than 860 people have been hospitalized statewide due to flu-related complications since the beginning of the season. Kiowa County currently has the highest hospitalization rate per capita, followed by Roger Mills and Cotton counties.
Officials urge everyone 6 months and older to get the vaccine.
High-dosage vaccines are available to those older than 65.
The virus spreads around the country every year, usually between October and May, via coughing, sneezing and close contact. Eighty-seven Oklahomans died during the flu season last year, and more than 3,000 were hospitalized.
The flu strikes suddenly and can last several days. 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 state Health Department recommends patients be free of fever for at least 24 hours before leaving home again and encourages the public to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and wash hands often.