Five deaths in Oklahoma have been attributed to the flu, the state Health Department confirmed Thursday.
State Health Department officials said the victims were in Kay, Le Flore, Osage, Pittsburg and Tulsa counties.
Two people who died were between 18 and 49 years old, and two others were between 50 and 64. The other person who died was 65 or older.
These five flu deaths are the first confirmed deaths this flu season in the state. The residents died sometime after Sept. 29, and then were later confirmed through the state Health Department to have died from the flu.
Meanwhile, 91 people were hospitalized because of the flu last week. A total of 242 Oklahomans have been hospitalized because of the flu since Sept. 29.
The state's flu season started in September and generally runs until April or May.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that's caused by influenza viruses and can cause mild to severe illness, according to the CDC. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death.
In Oklahoma County, 40 people have been hospitalized because of the flu, which equals five people per 100,000. Tulsa County has seen a higher rate of people hospitalized, with 59, a rate of almost 10 people per 100,000 residents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that flu activity is increasing nationally and is high in some states. Oklahoma is one of 20 states experiencing high flu activity.
Kendra Dougherty, an epidemiologist at the state Health Department, said the majority of confirmed cases in Oklahoma have involved the influenza A virus.
And many of the people sickened by the influenza A virus had contracted the H1N1 flu virus, a strain of the influenza A flu virus.
Dougherty said this year's flu shot protects against that strain of the flu.
Even though people who were sickened during the flu pandemic in 2009 should have some level of protection from H1N1, they should still get their flu shot, she said.
“If you had only gotten the flu shot during the pandemic, it would be recommended to get this new one because most likely the protection you received from that one way back during the pandemic is not really protective any more,” Dougherty said.
Although the flu virus can infect anyone, the H1N1 flu virus is known for its ability to sicken healthy middle-aged adults. This is different from other types of flu viruses, which are known to largely affect people 65 and older, and children.
Dougherty said the majority of the people who have died from the flu this season in Oklahoma had contracted influenza A, but it isn't known whether they had H1N1.
“Everybody needs to remember the protective measures that they can take — washing their hands, covering their cough, staying home when they're sick, getting the flu shot if they're 6 months of age or older,” she said.