OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ With two cases of influenza already confirmed in Oklahoma, state health officials are urging high-risk Oklahomans to get immunized against before the flu season begins in earnest in about two weeks.
``We'd like people who haven't gotten their shots so far ... to get them in order to build up an immunity,'' said Karen Mahan, the Health Department's nursing manager for immunizations.
``We certainly encourage at-risk individuals to get their flu shots as soon as possible because it is not too late to protect themselves and their families from the flu,'' she said.
This year's strain is the A-Panama flu virus. Influenza A most often causes flu epidemics in the United States, officials said.
The two confirmed flu cases were both in Oklahoma City. There have been no deaths.
The state Health Department has received its full allotment of 210,000 flu-vaccine doses, and has about 30,000 doses in reserve, Mahan said Wednesday.
But because vaccine shipments didn't arrive until late November and December, many high-risk individuals may have missed inoculations they normally get each year in October.
Free flu shots are available at all county health departments in Oklahoma. Those statewide health agencies, Mahan said, ``should have plenty of vaccine.''
After a flu shot is given, it takes about two weeks to provide protection. The Oklahoma flu season normally begins in mid-January and lasts until March or April.
State and local health departments cannot provide influenza vaccine to private agencies that charge customers for giving the immunizations.
Flu shots are a safe, effective vaccine with the only side effect being a slightly sore arm that lasts less than 24 hours, state health officials said.
Those who should not be vaccinated are individuals who have an allergic reaction to chicken eggs, and victims of a rare paralytic disorder known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Flu shots are given annually because shifts in the virus strain can occur from year to year.
Public health administrators also advise persons age 50 to 64 get a flu shot if vaccine is available.
Influenza and pneumonia caused by the flu virus make up the sixth most common cause of death in the United States.