State Battling Flu Outbreak

Friday, February 16th 2007, 4:08 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) Flu activity this week is at the highest level it's been all season in Oklahoma, as reports of hospitalizations come in from across the state, health officials said Friday.

"It's completely widespread, flu is everywhere in the state right now," said Brett Cauthen, state epidemiologist with the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

An outbreak this week in the Skiatook school district saw more than 400 kids home sick the first part of the week. Friday, 350 were still out.

"We're hoping we're on the mend," said Superintendent Gary Johnson.

Earlier this month, several schools in Craig and Ottawa counties reported as many as half of their students out sick with the flu.

Nationally, four children have been hospitalized with the flu in Nebraska and three North Carolina schools were closed over widespread symptoms of the illness.

"We are absolutely at the heart of it," said Tulsa Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Christian. "Historically, we know the flu peaks in February."

Influenza symptoms begin suddenly and typically include a fever of 100 degrees or higher, chills, headache, sore throat, cough, extreme fatigue and body aches.

Most who contract the flu recover in one to two weeks, but some may develop pneumonia, or other potentially life-threatening complications, officials said.

Typically, between 5 percent and 20 percent of Oklahomans will get the flu, officials said. Based on national estimates, up to 600 Oklahomans will die from it in a given year, Cauthen said. Oklahoma does not track flu deaths.

With flu season expected to last until April or later, medical officials are still urging people to get flu shots.

Physicians also can prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms.

To help avoid catching the flu, avoid close contact with people who are sick, keep your hands clean and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs can be spread that way, according to the health department.