The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) began surveillance for seasonal influenza early this fall and is detecting laboratory confirmed cases of influenza among Oklahomans.  In addition, there have been 14 influenza-associated hospitalizations since September 1, 2016, a total that is concerning at this point in the season. Cases of influenza illness have been geographically spread across the state and have occurred among people of all age groups.

generic influenza virion
3D influenza/CDC

Each week, a network of voluntary medical facilities and hospital laboratories report the number of patients that have been seen for influenza-like illness and the proportion of influenza tests that are positive for flu.  Some positive samples are forwarded to the OSDH Public Health Laboratory for confirmation and for determining the type of infecting influenza virus strain. All hospitals and healthcare providers are required to report influenza-associated hospitalizations or deaths to the OSDH.

Symptoms of influenza usually consist of a sudden onset of fever, body aches, headache, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Most persons affected by the flu require bed rest for 4-7 days to recover fully. Others may be at risk of serious complications of the flu, such as pneumonia, secondary bloodstream infections, or heart problems leading to hospitalization or even death.

To protect against the flu, an annual flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Vaccination is especially important for persons at high-risk for severe complications from influenza infection including children less than five years of age, persons age 65 years and older, pregnant women, and persons with underlying medical conditions. Flu vaccination not only protects pregnant women, but also protects their babies for up to 6 months before they are old enough to be vaccinated. Influenza vaccination is safe during pregnancy, after delivery, and for breastfeeding women.

The importance of protecting yourself and those close to you by getting immunized cannot be overstated.

“If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to get your flu shot before influenza activity is elevated,” said OSDH State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “While the flu shot does not completely prevent all cases of influenza illness, many studies have shown that it greatly reduces the risk of developing severe complications from influenza infection such as hospitalization and death, as well as shortening the duration of illness among people who got the flu vaccine compared to those who did not.”

In addition to getting your flu shot, the OSDH reminds you to follow these respiratory virus illness prevention tips:

  • Practice frequent hand hygiene using soap and water, or alcohol-based hand gels or wipes when hands are not visibly soiled
  • Make “respiratory hygiene” a habit, including use of tissues to cover coughs and sneezes, then disposing of them and performing hand hygiene right away. When tissues are not readily available, sneeze or cough into your sleeve — never your hands
  • Stay home from work, school, and other public places if you are sick with the flu.