Two elderly women may be third, fourth Oklahomans to die of flu

Saturday, December 6th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Two elderly Broken Arrow residents may be the third and fourth Oklahomans to die of influenza, officials say.

The women, ages 83 and 78, who died this week had contracted the flu but also had other conditions that could've contributed to their deaths, health officials said.

A 13-year-old asthmatic Tulsa girl and a healthy 28-year-old Midwest City woman already have died of Type-A influenza, which has claimed at least a dozen lives nationwide.

Compounding health officials' fears that the worst is yet to come was word Friday from the two American makers of flu shots that they've run out and won't be able to meet a surge in demand.

About 260 people a day have filled Tulsa's five hospital emergency rooms, said Christy Edmonds, manager of planning and epidemiology for the Tulsa City-County Health Department.

"We keep looking for when we're going to peak and when we'll start going down," said Gary Cox, director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. "But it doesn't show any indication of slowing down."

Chiron and Aventis Pasteur are American makers of flu vaccines and combine to provide 80 million doses, which usually would be enough to satisfy U.S. needs.

But the recent outbreak has led to unprecedented demand for the vaccine, officials of both companies say.

Shots may still be available, however.

The Oklahoma Health Department on Friday received an emergency shipment of 11,000 flu vaccinations, which will be distributed to county health departments in the state. There are 262 confirmed cases of the flu in Oklahoma as of Nov. 29, officials said.

Private doctors may also have additional supplies, said Don Blose, chief of the state immunization service at the state Health Department.

He said "no one would have estimated the surge in demand this flu season."

Stephen Rempe, executive director of the Garfield County Health Department in Enid, said his agency received 400 vaccine doses and will offer them beginning Tuesday morning.

"Once that is gone, we're not sure what's going to happen," Rempe said.

In McAlester, the Pittsburg County Health Department has administered more than 7,300 flu shots, said Mike Echelle, director of the agency. He expects his department to get 340 more by Wednesday.

"We encourage everyone to be vaccinated," Echelle said.

At least 352 people, 39 percent with a contagious illness, showed up at Unity Health Center earlier this week, said Angi Mohr, nursing director for the emergency room.

"We had some record numbers this past four days in the ER," Mohr said.

Dr. Scott Stewart, whose office has seen a number of children stricken with the virus, is one of the physicians tracking the flu for the state Health Department.

"We actually saw the first cases in the south part of the state and just watched it move up the state," Stewart said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in a typical year, between 70 million and 75 million Americans get flu shots, and the record is 80 million.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC head, said this year more people than usual got flu shots in October and November, and there is unusually high interest in December.

Widespread flu outbreaks have been reported in Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Washington. At least six people have died in Colorado and more than 6,300 flu cases have been reported there.

Influenza is caused by a virus that primarily affects the nose, throat, bronchial airways and lungs. People at high-risk, including the elderly and persons with heart or lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, asthma and cancer, are encouraged to get vaccines annually.

The flu is blamed for about 36,000 deaths a year in the United States.