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January 11, 2013

Sharp increase in state flu cases, deaths

OKLAHOMA CITY — The number of Oklahomans hospitalized with the flu has more than doubled in the past week to surpass the total number during last year’s flu season, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Thursday.

The department also said the number of deaths related to the illness is nearly equal to last season.

The Health Department reported 345 people have been hospitalized due to influenza during the current flu season, up from 171 a week ago, and eight people have died as a result of the flu, an increase of six since last week.

In the 2011-12 flu season, 316 people were hospitalized and nine people died, the department reported.

The flu season is considered to run from September through May, and health department epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said this is the time of year that the disease typically peaks.

“There are several factors, some are not clearly understood. It does seem that it was a mild season last year,” Burnsed said. “Some of the reasons are the strain of influenza, A-H3, this is what the vaccine targets, but this (strain) has been noted to cause a more serious, more intense or severe (flu) season ... This is not necessarily a more deadly strain,” he said.

Those most susceptible are children younger than 5, people over age 65 and those with diseases such as lung disease or asthma. Burnsed declined to speculate on how intense the flu season may become during the next several weeks.

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