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For Release: Jan. 13, 2011 
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Spike in Flu Hospitalizations Concerns Health Officials

Hospitalizations resulting from influenza have more than doubled in the past two weeks according to statistics released today by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (www.health.ok.gov). Many of those hospitalized are under the age of 18.

“Spread of influenza in several areas of the state has noticeably increased, so if you haven’t already, now is the time to get your shot,” said Dr. Kristy Bradley, Oklahoma State Epidemiologist.

“We want to encourage parents to seek influenza vaccination for their children and themselves, because one half of all flu-related hospitalizations have occurred in patients under 18 years old,” Bradley said.  “The influenza vaccination is recommended for everyone over 6 months old.  If a baby too young to get the flu shot is in the home, everyone who interacts with the baby should have this year’s influenza vaccination.”

State reports show that 77 Oklahomans were hospitalized in the past two weeks, more than double the total number reported since September 1, 2010.  In addition, two deaths have been linked to influenza.

“It’s not too late to protect yourself and your family,” said Dr. Bradley. “We anticipate an increase in influenza cases and hospitalizations in the next several weeks. In Oklahoma, seasonal activity of the virus tends to peak in February with cases occurring as late as April. ”

This year there is a $25 fee for flu vaccinations at county health departments. However, many persons, including seniors, may qualify for a fee waiver, including those who are on Medicare and do not belong to an HMO. Persons who are on SoonerCare and children who qualify for the Vaccines for Children program are eligible for fee waivers as well as others who may be eligible based on income. In addition, persons enrolled in HealthChoice and the Oklahoma Public Employees – Health and Welfare (OPEHW) insurance programs can present their insurance cards at county health departments and the fee for the vaccine will be billed to HealthChoice and OPEHW.

If you have questions about whether you qualify for a fee waiver, call your local county health department. Visit the Oklahoma State Department of Health Web site at www.health.ok.gov, as well as www.flu.gov  and www.cdc.gov/flu for updates throughout the flu season.

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