Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has announced that county health departments will begin offering flu vaccines statewide this week in preparation for the flu season.

Note: An in-depth look at how much help vaccinations offer as Fall ushers in flu season. Oklahoma had a mild season last year, reporting 13 flu deaths, but the state lost 114 the year before –– most of them senior citizens. With such fluctuation in levels of severity, being prepared through vaccination remains highly encouraged by health care experts.

Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has announced that county health departments will begin offering flu vaccines statewide this week in preparation for the flu season.

Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It spreads between people and can cause mild to severe illness. In some cases, the flu can lead to death.

Oklahoma had somewhat of a reprieve last year.

The 2015-2016 flu season resulted in 13 deaths in the state, with a total of 552 hospitalizations.

Deaths were sporadic across nine counties: three each in Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties; and one each in Creek, Delaware, Grady, Harper, Le Flore, McClain and Rogers Counties.

Only a dozen counties showed 10 or more influenza-related hospitalization –– Pottawatomie County experienced eight. Out of all the counties, 25 reported no hospitalizations at all.

Data shows the year before offered much higher numbers.

During the 2014-2015 season, OSDH reported two flu deaths in Pottawatomie County and one in Lincoln County. Collectively, Lincoln, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties had 59 flu hospitalizations that year.

Of the 114 Oklahoma flu deaths reported, 86 of them were seniors over age 65. In the same age group, there were 1,354 hospitalizations in the state as a result of flu. The total of Oklahoma flu-related hospitalizations numbered 2,299 for 2014-2015.

Nationally

In the United States, flu season generally starts in October and tapers off around May. Seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February.

Each year approximately 5-20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu and each year it kills more than 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 more, according to nih.gov. NIAID scientists worldwide are working together to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat seasonal and pandemic influenza, including H1N1 flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination, stating, “Getting a flu vaccine can protect against flu viruses that are the same or related to the viruses in the vaccine.”

OSDH Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline agreed.

“We are learning more and more about the benefits of influenza vaccination every year,” Cline said. “One example is the benefit for pregnant women and newborn babies. Flu vaccination not only protects pregnant women, but also protects their babies for up to 6 months. Since influenza is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women and newborns this protection is important. Flu vaccination is safe during pregnancy, after delivery, and for breastfeeding women.”

CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness. Recent studies show vaccine can reduce the risk of flu illness by about 50-60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against.

Problem is, sometimes the vaccine doesn’t line up with what’s circulating.

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season. According to the CDC, at least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed.

The vaccine for the 2014-2015 season was reportedly only 19 percent effective.

Tony Sellars, OSDH director of communications, said last year's vaccine was a better match.

One big change this year is that County health departments will not be offering the flu mist –– because it's no longer recommended by the CDC.

Lisa Grohskopf, from the CDC's Influenza Division, said, “We are recommending that only injectable influenza vaccines (inactivated influenza vaccine [IIV] or recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV]) should be used,” she said. “The intranasal live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), sold under the trade name FluMist® Quadrivalent, should not be used, citing a study reporting that essentially no protective benefit could be measured (3-percent effectiveness), especially against H1N1 viruses.”

Even taking the flu mist out of the equation, there should still be plenty of the vaccine to go around.

Vaccine manufacturers have projected that as many as 157-168 million doses of injectable influenza vaccine will be made available for the 2016-2017 season. This number of doses is higher than has ever been used during a regular flu season in the United States, according to the CDC. Based on these projections, the supply of injectable flu vaccine should be sufficient to meet an increase in demand resulting from the recommendation to not use LAIV this season.

In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses might develop less immunity after vaccination. However, even for these people, the flu vaccine still may provide some protection.

Antiviral drugs are also an important second line of defense against the flu. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.

Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia.

Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

The CDC tracks flu activity in the United States year round and produces a weekly report of flu activity from October through mid-May.

The CDC FluView report for the 2016-2017 season will begin in October.

To stay up-to-date with the report, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm.

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