Three times as many flu deaths were reported to the Oklahoma Health Department in the past week than in the previous three months combined.
Six new Oklahoma flu deaths were reported in the week that ended Tuesday. That raises the state's death toll for the current flu season to eight.
Records show 345 Oklahomans have been hospitalized with flu symptoms since Sept. 30, including 92 who have been hospitalized and/or died between Jan. 2 and Jan. 8.
“We're starting to see a pickup, for sure,” said Thomas Ingmire, an emergency room doctor at Presbyterian Hospital. “We were doing pretty well until probably 2½ weeks ago. Since then it has been a (steadily) increasing number of folks.”
Ingmire estimated Presbyterian Hospital emergency room doctors are seeing 30 to 40 flu patients a day. He expects those numbers to go even higher before the flu season peaks.
This year's flu season hit earlier than last year's and shows signs of being more severe.
Only seven patients had been hospitalized with flu symptoms by this time last year and there had not yet been any deaths, said Laurence Burnsed, epidemiologist with the Acute Disease Service of the state Health Department.
Already the state has seen more patients hospitalized with the flu this season than it saw during the entire last flu season when 318 patients were hospitalized, Burnsed said.
And the state still has a long way to go, since the flu season isn't considered over until the end of April. Ten people died during the last flu season, which was considered mild.
Although doctors have noticed an increase in patients, spokespersons for school districts in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Edmond said they have not yet seen any significant increase in absences by students or teachers.