MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

January 10, 2013

One flu death in county

Officials urge residents to get flu vaccination

As patients with flu symptoms fill Muskogee area clinics, health officials advise people to take precautions — and get immunized.

The Oklahoma Health Department reported one influenza-related death in Muskogee County from Jan. 1 through 8. Muskogee County Health Department Administrative Director Linda Hattaway said all she has heard was that the death was an adult female.

Muskogee pediatrician Mike Stratton said the Children’s Clinic is seeing 100 patients a day with symptoms of the flu or other respiratory illnesses. He’s concerned with what he sees.

“We’re saying that if you haven’t got a flu shot, you’d better do it now,” he said. “You might think this is like a bad cold, but it’s a serious illness. People can die from it.”

Staff at the Children’s Clinic have been testing children for flu or immunizing against flu. Not all the patients have the flu, Stratton said. Many patients have respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

Muskogee Public Schools officials are notifying schools to remind people to take seasonal precautions, such as avoiding close contact, not touching your nose and other measures, district spokeswoman Melony Carey said.

Hattaway said the county clinic is seeing more cases of the flu and more people getting flu vaccines than in past years. She said 30 to 40 adults are visiting the county clinic each day.

One of those patients was Pennie Bennett of Muskogee.

“I am taking care of an elderly mother, and I don’t need to get down with it while I’m taking care of her,” Bennett said.

The clinic also is at risk of running out of the vaccine.

“We have enough vaccine to cover today, but not enough to cover tomorrow,” Hattaway said shortly after noon Thursday. “We are out of the vaccine in Sequoyah County.”

The Oklahoma Health Department reported two influenza-related hospitalizations in Sequoyah County from Jan. 1 through 8; Muskogee County reported five hospitalizations and McIntosh reported two for that period. The state reported eight deaths and 345 hospitalizations since reporting for the current flu season began Sept. 30, 2012.

“The flu has been hitting much earlier and much harder this year,” Hattaway said, stressing the importance of getting flu vaccines.

Stratton, however, said the flu seems to be spreading later than usual.

“It usually starts around here in November or October,” Stratton said.

The most prevalent flu now is the ‘A’ strain, which has symptoms including cough, runny nose and fever of 104 to 106, he said.

The Cherokee Nation also encourages people to get flu shots and reports an ample supply of the vaccine at its health facilities.

“Others may be running out, but we still have plenty of vaccine here at W.W. Hastings,” Cherokee Nation’s Infection Preventionist Jennifer Tredway said in a media release. “We’re sharing with our eight Cherokee Nation Health Centers to help all of us get through this flu season, which has peaked much earlier this year.”

The media release said more than 17,000 patients at W.W. Hastings and the tribe’s health centers were vaccinated from October through December.

However, Dr. Jorge Mera, infectious disease physician at Hastings, said it’s not too late to get the shot.

“The flu shot is the only tool we have to prevent an individual from getting infected,” Mera said in a media release.

The risk of flu also could be lessened with thorough hand-washing and covering the nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, Stratton said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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