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FOR RELEASE: December 9, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Oklahoma at Epidemic Levels for Influenza

Oklahoma is currently experiencing an epidemic of influenza, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed today.

“Our influenza surveillance network indicates a steady rise in influenza-like illnesses around the state with no evidence that the disease has yet peaked,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Crutcher.

“The good news is that thousands of Oklahomans have heeded earlier messages about the importance of getting a flu shot,” Crutcher said. “Unfortunately, this demand has drained flu vaccine supplies both here in Oklahoma and around the nation.”

Crutcher said the Oklahoma State Department of Health began efforts to obtain additional vaccine before Thanksgiving in anticipation of dwindling supplies. Those efforts resulted in the purchase and distribution of an additional 19,000 doses to local county health departments. Some counties also redistributed vaccine to other county health departments needing vaccine. Even so, many county health departments report they have run out of flu vaccine, and statewide, the entire county health department network will probably be depleted of flu vaccine by the end of the week. National vaccine manufacturers report that they, too, have run out of vaccine.

State health officials suggest those at high risk for complications from influenza who have not received their flu shot should still be persistent in trying to get a flu shot this year. “These persons should check with their health care provider, local pharmacies or special groups who administer vaccine like the Visiting Nurses Association, or their local county health department,” said Crutcher. “County health departments that have discontinued flu clinics may know of other sites in the community where flu vaccine is still available.”

Crutcher said persons at high risk for complications related to influenza include the following groups:

  • Persons 65 years of age and older.
  • Women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during influenza season.
  • Persons with chronic, long-term health problems including heart or lung disease, kidney problems, asthma, HIV/AIDS, or other illnesses that suppress the immune system.

Parents and health care providers are reminded that young, otherwise healthy children are at an increased risk for influenza-related hospitalization, thus influenza vaccination of healthy children 6 months of age to 23 months of age should be encouraged when feasible. In addition, health officials strongly recommend the vaccination of children aged 6 months and older who have chronic health conditions, need regular medical care, including hospitalization, or who are on long-term aspirin therapy.

Influenza vaccination is also recommended for persons aged 50 to 64 years and health care workers and others in close contact with individuals at high risk of influenza-related complications.

New this year is a nasal mist flu vaccine recommended for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 years old. Healthy persons might consider asking their health care provider about getting the vaccine administered by nasal spray, in order to
conserve the traditional injected vaccine for high-risk individuals. The nasal vaccine spray is not available at local county health departments.

Influenza, also called “the flu,” is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus. Two main types of influenza virus (type A and type B) circulate in the United States during late fall and winter. Each type of influenza has many different strains, which tend to change from year to year. The flu usually spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks and the virus is sent into the air. When a person is infected with the influenza virus they will develop symptoms in one to five days.

Unlike many other viral respiratory infections that also tend to occur during the fall and winter, influenza may cause a more severe illness. The symptoms of influenza start suddenly and typically include a fever of 100 F. or higher, chills, headache, sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, extreme tiredness, and body aches. Most people with the flu will recover completely in one to two weeks; however, some persons may develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia. About 36,000 people die each year of influenza in the U.S., with potentially as many as 440 deaths attributable to flu in Oklahoma annually. Receiving an influenza vaccine each year is the best way to protect against the flu.

Influenza is not a reportable disease in Oklahoma, meaning doctors and hospitals are not required to report flu cases to local health departments or the state health department, thus, exact flu case numbers are not known. Like most states, Oklahoma relies on a surveillance network to give a “snapshot” of flu activity in the state. Selected physicians and laboratories track influenza levels and identify circulating strains of the virus.

In addition to getting vaccinated against influenza, Oklahomans can also work to keep from getting sick throughout the flu season by following these precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water and dry with a disposable towel, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat properly.
  • Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handle, and telephones.
  • Keep babies and young children away from people who have flu-like illnesses.

If you do get sick with flu symptoms, follow these recommendations to prevent spreading germs:

  • Stay home from work or school so that you do not infect others.
  • Cover your nose and mouth, preferably with a disposable tissue, when you cough or sneeze and clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels, or other personal items.

Most healthy people who become ill with influenza-like illnesses can be treated at home without going to the hospital. The fever of the flu usually lasts three to five days. Persons should call their health care provider if fever or other symptoms worsen over time, if they have difficulty breathing, or if they become dehydrated. Antibiotics are not recommended for treating influenza since flu is caused by a virus and antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial illnesses. Antiviral drugs may be prescribed by a health care provider to reduce the length of illness.

Prior to the onset of the current influenza epidemic, the Oklahoma State Department of Health requested a $600,000 supplemental legislative appropriation to purchase an estimated 80,000 additional doses of flu vaccine for the 2004-2005 influenza season. This request was prompted by a tripling of flu vaccine costs, an anticipated expansion in the recommended high-risk groups to receive vaccine in the 2004-2005 flu season, and a loss of 25 percent of state general revenue over the past two years. If approved, the supplemental monies will be applied to the state’s flu vaccine order, which will be placed in March 2004.


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