Oklahoma flu deaths approach historic numbers

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Flu season continues to take its toll on the state of Oklahoma as we are now just one death away from the state record.

We've seen 129 flu deaths so far this year after seeing 130 during last year's flu season. The majority of flu deaths are going to occur in young children and the elderly. Eighty-nine of the 129 deaths in Oklahoma have been people over the age of 65, but we've also seen a huge impact in people much younger than that. So far, 15 people ages 18 to 49 and 25 people ages 50 to 64 have died from the flu.

Doctor Daniel Dorton said when young children die from the flu, it isn't usually just the flu the at kills them.

"A lot of times in younger children it's secondary to other illnesses, not so much necessarily influenza virus itself. It's more when they get a secondary infection or a bacterial ammonia," Dorton said.

Doctor Dorton said children could also die from the flu if they have other underlying illnesses they receive treatment for, which is also what generally causes the elderly to feel greater effects from the flu.

"A lot of them have underlying morbidities, meaning they have illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, COPD, underlying lung issues, heart issues," Dorton said. "So, when their immune system is weakened, they get these bacterial infections and it already takes them from a stance to where they can barely fight any infection anyway to where they have these bacterial infections and it just knocked them out."

Dorton said when you have those other illnesses, the flu can come in and weaken your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to battle the other illnesses you're already dealing with.

"It's easy to get these people that are finely tuned with these medications by their primary care doctor who can't take any more insults, meaning as soon as they get a viral illness that makes their immune system weak, it really throws things off kilter and makes them susceptible to further infections," Dorton said. "When they come in and they are really ill, it may be because the flu knocked down their immune system and the other illness just added on top of everything else."

Dorton said those underlying illnesses could also be the cause for some of the deaths of people 18 to 64, but that isn't always the case.

"Those age groups it's more peculiar and it's more case to case as well. Sometimes it's not getting to your primary care doctor soon enough or just getting dehydrated. Once you get dehydrated and you get other infections it really just puts you behind the 8-ball," Dorton said.

Doctor Dorton said if you start feeling sick and think you are getting the flu the best thing you can do is stay home and immediately start hydrating. Plus, he said you should get the flu shot each year, even though this year it's only been about 30-percent effective. He said just in the patients he has seen, there have been some that got the flu shot and still got sick, but they seemed to have much milder symptoms and got over them much quicker.

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