Three Oklahomans from three counties died this past week from flu-related complications, the state Health Department reported Thursday.
One resident was between 19 and 64 years old, and the other two were 65 or older. The Health Department does not provide more specific age statistics.
The deaths were reported in Oklahoma, Tulsa and Stephens counties.
Since Sept. 30, which is regarded as the start of flu season, 17 Oklahomans have died from flu-related complications, according to Health Department statistics.
Meanwhile, 78 flu-related hospitalizations were reported over the past week. So far, 722 flu-related hospitalizations have been reported in Oklahoma since Sept. 30.
The flu continues to cause a lot of illness across the country, and flu-related hospitalization and death indicators have increased sharply in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
County health departments and some doctor's offices and pharmacies offer the flu shot. Health departments offer the flu shot free or at a discounted fee for people who cannot afford to pay.
Symptoms of the flu include fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache and fatigue, according to the CDC.
Oklahoma has seen a decline over the past few weeks in reports of flu-related hospitalizations, deaths and outpatient visits to doctors' offices, said Laurence Burnsed, director of the communicable disease division at the state Health Department.
“The question is — have we seen a peak yet?” Burnsed said. “I think it's a little too early to say we've peaked. We're still in that time of year where we have a widespread level of activity, and influenza activity can fluctuate from one week to another.”
Oklahoma's flu season generally runs from September to March or April. That means there's still time to get a flu shot, Burnsed said.
What the data means
Even though the state Health Department updates its flu numbers each week, these numbers don't represent all cases of the flu in Oklahoma, he said.
Rather, these numbers come from lab results of flu tests run on people with flu-like symptoms at medical facilities and also from 20 doctors' offices in Oklahoma that report how many patients they saw in the past week who had flu-like illness.
The state Health Department uses the data to understand intensity of flu activity and what age groups are affected more severely than others, he said. For example, since September, adults older than 65 have been affected most by the flu. Of the 722 reported hospitalizations, about half were among that age group. Of the 17 Oklahomans who have died from the flu since September, 12 were 65 or older.
Reducing the risk
Children and those older than 65 are at the highest risk of developing serious complications related to the flu.
People who have diseases or disorders that affect their immune system, such as diabetes or heart disease, will have a harder time fighting off the flu as well, Burnsed said.
“That's why we really try to stress to everybody to eat right, be active and be tobacco free,” he said. “Because all those affect your overall health, and your overall health affects your immune system.”