Oklahoma Department of Health reports 3 new flu deaths to bring season total to a record 101

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A record-breaking flu season has brought Oklahoma's death toll to more than 100, the state Department of Health reported Thursday.

Health officials said three new influenza deaths were recorded during the past week, bringing the total to 101. The previous seasonal record of 72 deaths set last year was broken in February.

About 2,100 people have been hospitalized with flu in Oklahoma since the season began on Sept. 28, far exceeding the previous record of about 1,300, also set last year, according to figures provided by state health officials.

Although the death toll is rising, hospitalizations are decreasing, said Laurence Burnsed, an epidemiologist with the state Health Department.

"The occurrence of severe influenza has been gradually declining over the past several weeks," Burnsed said. The state's flu season generally runs through late April or early May.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the prevalence of the aggressive H3N2 flu virus this season has been particularly burdensome for older people. The flu-associated hospitalization rate among people 65 and older is the highest since the CDC began tracking that data in 2005.

"That could be a factor in why it was such an intense season," Burnsed said. Nationwide, almost 60 percent of flu-associated hospitalizations have been among people 65 and older.

The CDC said children aged 4 and under have experienced the second-highest hospitalization rate, the agency said.

Among the deaths, 77 were 65 years of age or older and two victims were 4 or younger, the state Health Department said. Fourteen flu victims were aged 50-64. Another four deaths occurred in people aged 18-49 and four were in the 5-17-year-old age range.

Burnsed said this year's flu vaccine was not a good match for the H3N2 flu strain — it is about 23 percent effective, which is far less than the usual 50 percent to 60 percent. In recent weeks, however, health researchers have seen an increase in the prevalence of the Type B influenza virus, which is better treated by the vaccine, he said.

"Every season can be different in intensity and the trends," Burnsed said.

Tulsa County has recorded the most flu deaths this season with 22, followed by Oklahoma County with 13 and five each in Garfield, Cleveland, Stephens and Logan counties.

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