A total of 48 people have died from the flu in Oklahoma since September, the highest number of flu deaths since the state began keeping track of this statistic in 2009.
The state Health Department confirmed Thursday that four additional deaths had brought the total to 48.
The state began tracking flu deaths in 2009 during the H1N1 flu pandemic. That flu season, 46 residents were confirmed to have died because of the flu.
The number of people who will get the flu or die from the flu varies widely from year to year, and it’s largely unpredictable for a variety of reasons, said Kendra Dougherty, an epidemiologist at the Health Department.
For example, just because the H1N1 2009 virus caused several deaths during the 2009-10 flu season and has also been prevalent in this year’s flu season, that doesn’t mean that virus will always have that same impact, Dougherty said.
In contrast, during the 2011-2012 flu season when the H1N1 2009 virus was the main virus affecting people, 10 people died.
“It’s very variable from year to year, and the strain that's circulating does impact that and impacts what age groups are affected,” Dougherty said. “Just because it’s (the) 2009 H1N1 strain doesn’t mean we're going to have a severe year. There are all kinds of factors we know about and don't know about.”
Since September, the majority of people who have gotten sick from the flu caught the Influenza A virus. In some cases, further testing was done, and it was confirmed to be H1N1 2009, which is a type of Influenza A virus.
Young children and adults 65 and older are often warned about the flu virus, for they are often most likely to be sickened by the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the H1N1 2009 virus is known to affect a younger age demographic. That trend has been noticed in Oklahoma and nationwide.
The CDC reported Thursday that people ages 18 to 64 represented 61 percent of all hospitalizations from the flu, up from the previous three seasons when this age group represented only about 35 percent of all such hospitalizations.
Flu deaths followed the same pattern, with more deaths than usual occurring in this younger age group, according to the CDC.
Data also released Thursday shows that flu shots this season offer “substantial protection against the flu this season,” reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60 percent across all ages, according to the federal agency.
“Flu hospitalizations and deaths in people younger and middle-aged adults is a sad and difficult reminder that flu can be serious for anyone, not just the very young and old, and that everyone should be vaccinated,” Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, said in a statement Thursday. “The good news is that this season's vaccine is doing its job, protecting people across all age groups.”
Nationally, flu deaths this season are following a pattern a similar to the pandemic, according to CDC. People 25 years to 64 years of age have accounted for about 60 percent of flu deaths this season compared with 18 percent, 30 percent, and 47 percent for the three previous seasons, respectively, according to CDC.
In Oklahoma, 31 deaths were among people between 18 and 64, almost 65 percent of the deaths confirmed thus far this flu season, according to Health Department data.
Additionally, about half of residents who have been hospitalized since September because of the flu were between 18 and 64.