With new cases being added every day, influenza is debilitating many Oklahomans and their families, leaving businesses short-handed and schools forced to close due to rampant sickness.

With new cases being added every day, influenza is debilitating many Oklahomans and their families, leaving businesses short-handed and schools forced to close due to rampant sickness.

In Oklahoma in the past week, flu-related hospitalizations are reported to have added almost 500 more cases — 3,000 since the season started in September — now almost three times the number recorded the first week of January, which was 1,020. Data on deaths is still climbing — reporting 129 this week, compared to last week when it stood at 92. In comparison, this season's deaths have now surpassed figures tallied from entire flu seasons in the past, and this season is just past the halfway mark. There were 110 flu-related deaths in the state during the previous flu season — just below the now-previous record of 114 deaths four years ago.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) said that illness is widespread and that flu-related deaths have been recorded in all regions of the state. A total of 23 deaths have been recorded in Tulsa County this season and 14 in Oklahoma County, the state's most populated counties.

The six counties that make up the central region in central Oklahoma (Oklahoma County is tallied by itself) are Pottawatomie, Lincoln, Logan, Canadian, Cleveland and McClain; reportedly there have been a total of 408 flu-related hospitalizations and 20 deaths, so far.

Pottawatomie County has reported 73 flu-related hospitalizations so far this season, which is up five from last week; the first week in January recorded 30.

Health officials say 15 flu-related deaths have occurred among people aged 18 to 49, but that most of this season's flu-related fatalities have occurred among people 50 or older, including 89 victims who were 65 or older. So far, there have been no reported deaths for anyone 17 or younger in Oklahoma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that flu activity is likely to remain elevated for several more weeks.

The CDC reports activity has increased to 43 states plus New York City, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Influenza-like illness (ILI) has reached 7.7 percent this week and is the highest level of ILI recorded since the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which peaked at 7.7 percent ILI.

The total number of flu-related pediatric deaths reported this season in the nation is at 63.

The CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination for all persons 6 months of age and older as flu viruses are likely to continue circulating for weeks and there is an increasing proportion of influenza B and H1N1 viruses being detected. In addition, in the context of widespread influenza activity, CDC is reminding clinicians and the public about the importance of prompt treatment with antiviral medications in people who are severely ill and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications who develop flu symptoms.

The OSDH reports all county health departments around the state of Oklahoma have ample supplies of flu vaccine and immunization is recommended for all, especially those in the higher risk categories of ages one to five and over age 65.

“It is not too late to protect yourself from the flu,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley said. “The vaccine will continue to provide protection from what has been an exceptionally hard-hitting flu season.”