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FOR RELEASE: December 4, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Flu Confirmed in Oklahoma
Vaccination Levels are Improving

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has confirmed the first cases of influenza in Oklahoma. The agency’s Public Health Laboratory has confirmed a total of four cases as Influenza Type B, Hong Kong like. The cases were from Texas and Payne counties.

Now that flu has been confirmed in the state, health officials are stressing the importance of getting a flu shot as soon as possible. “It’s not too late to get your flu shot because the disease usually reaches its peak in Oklahoma after December,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch.

Flu shots are available to any Oklahoman, regardless of whether or not they are considered high-risk individuals, for as long as the supply lasts. State health officials especially encourage persons over age 50 and those at high-risk for complications from influenza to get their flu shot. High-risk individuals include persons with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or breathing disorders; women who will be in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season; and health care workers and others who care for persons at risk for influenza.

Health officials also recommend a one-time pneumococcal vaccine for persons who are 65 years of age or older, or persons who have heart or lung problems or diabetes. This vaccine protects against pneumococcal pneumonia, the most common type of pneumonia resulting in hospitalizations. This vaccine is available at physicians' offices and county health departments.

“We are slowly increasing the percentage of persons in Oklahoma age 65 and older who are receiving the flu vaccination,” Beitsch said. “Our rates improved from 71.8 percent in 1999 to 72.7 percent in 2001, advancing our national ranking from 11th in the nation in 1999 to 6th in the nation in 2001.”

Beitsch also noted an improvement in the number of older Oklahomans receiving the pneumococcal vaccination. “We’ve progressed in our ranking for that vaccination from being 32nd in the nation in 1999 to 11th in the nation in 2001. There still is room for improvement, however.

We must continue our public health education efforts to prevent illnesses and improve the health of all Oklahomans. Our health is important because it impacts our everyday quality of life from business to education and recreational activities,” he said.

Beitsch said Oklahoma has been able to increase its flu and pneumococcal vaccination levels among persons 65 and older for a variety of reasons, including:

Enhanced efforts in 2000 to promote rules requiring that nursing homes offer influenza vaccine and a pneumococcal vaccination to each resident annually.

The adoption of standing orders for routine screening and vaccination of high-risk individuals by some hospitals.

Increased outreach and education efforts, including a new partnership between OSDH, the Oklahoma Immunization Coalitions, and Cox Communications to air public service announcements encouraging vaccinations.

“To continue to improve upon these immunization levels will require nurturing and sustaining partnerships between health, businesses and other organizations at both state and local levels,” Beitsch said. “We need to ensure that adequate funding and resources are available to meet the public demand for these vaccinations.”

For more information about the flu and pneumococcal vaccines, contact the county health department in your area.

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