Eight Oklahoma residents were reported hospitalized last week with influenza, according to state Health Department data released Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a nationwide significant increase in flu activity over the past two weeks, indicating an early flu season.
“This is the earliest regular flu season we've had in nearly a decade, since the 2003-04 flu season,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, said during a news conference this week. “That was an early and severe flu year, and while flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we're seeing, suggest that this could be a bad flu year.”
States south and east of Oklahoma, including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, have recently reported a high level of flu-like illnesses, according to the CDC.
Since Sept. 30, the start of Oklahoma's flu season, the state Health Department has reported 20 residents hospitalized with flu-related illness. No deaths have been reported.
Dr. Robert Welliver, an infectious disease specialist with OU Physicians, said Thursday at a news conference that vaccination is the best weapon against the flu.
“Fortunately, this year's vaccine protects against the strain of flu being seen most often thus far,” Welliver said. “So if you haven't been vaccinated, I would suggest there is never a better time to get a flu shot.”
Local health departments charge $25 for regular seasonal flu vaccine for those with insurance and resources to pay. The flu shot is covered by Medicare Part B for adults 65 years of age and older. There's no fee for people who are on Medicare and do not belong to an HMO, for people on SoonerCare, and for children who are eligible for the Vaccines for Children program.
Some people may be eligible for fee waivers based on income. No one will be denied a flu shot because of inability to pay, according to the state Health Department.