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.”