The flu continues to take its toll across Oklahoma and in the Muskogee area with the state reaching a record number of hospitalizations due to the flu while flu deaths are one death away from a record number, officials said.
As of Thursday, there had been 3,000 hospitalizations statewide, including 93 in Muskogee County. Jamie Dukes, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said the mid-season hospitalization total surpasses the previous record of 2,421 for all of the 2016-17 season. The 129 deaths across the state so far nearly meets the previous record of 130 deaths, which was for the entire flu season a year ago, she said.
"And we still have a lot of flu season to go this year," Dukes said. "We're starting to see just a little letting up in the number of Type A flu cases, but it looks like the Type B cases are starting to increase."
Dr. Kenneth Gibson, chief medical officer for the regional Northeastern Oklahoma Community Health Care Centers, said the NEO Health clinics have seen more flu-related cases this season than in past years.
He classified the season as being moderately severe with both respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Gibson strongly recommended anyone with flu symptoms get to their family physician within the first 24 hours the symptoms show up to help minimize the severity of the flu.
Among Muskogee area school districts feeling the pinch of the flu bug are the classrooms in Hilldale Public Schools. Superintendent Dr. Kaylin Coody said staffers have been hit hard with illness this season, too.
"We've had a lot of teachers out, and it's really been a struggle to find subs," she said Thursday. "But if our teachers are sick, we want them to stay home."
The district's student absence numbers have been averaging about 10 percent of Hilldale's total student population of 1,784.
"Our hardest hit day so far was Tuesday," Coody said of absences.
Hilldale officials took a new precautionary step this year with the purchase of equipment that shoots a gel into classrooms and buses to disinfect surfaces, she said.
While it is hard to say what impact that measure has been, Coody feels like investing in the preventive effort was a good move.
Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover said that district, too, recently invested in what he referred to as an electro-static fogging device. The staff has started using it to fog classrooms and other areas with a disinfectant.
"We've been ranging about 1 to 4 percent below normal attendance," Glover said.
The largest impact of absences in Fort Gibson has been at the high school where about 10 percent of students have missed class, he said.
"We started a cleaning regimen in November, and our staff has been doing a good job with that," Glover said. While Fort Gibson has not seen a large number of teachers out for illness as any one time, he said it has been difficult to get substitute teachers to fill in.
Haskell Public Schools canceled classes this past Friday and Monday so maintenance crews could go into classrooms and public areas to disinfect them, officials said. Classes resumed Tuesday.
Muskogee County reported 22 new hospitalizations for the weekly reporting period from Jan. 30 through Feb. 6, the state reported. The number of hospitalizations in the county jumped from 71 on Jan. 30 to 93 as of Feb. 6.
State health officials have not issued numbers of deaths in Muskogee County attributed to the flu but at least one death locally has been attributed to complications of the flu. Muskogee Public Schools counselor Susan Jean Roberts, 58, died in January from flu-related symptoms, school officials said.
Health officials say that 89 people aged 65 or over are among this year's flu causality victims, more than any other age group. A total of 15 people aged 18-49 and another 25 people aged 50-64 also have died due to the flu this season, the state reported.
In the immediate surrounding area, Wagoner County has had 86 hospitalizations; Cherokee County has had 35 hospitalizations as of Tuesday; and McIntosh County reported 25 flu-related hospitalizations.
A total of 748 Tulsa County residents have been hospitalized due to the flu, more than any other Oklahoma county, including Oklahoma County, which had 514 hospitalizations so far, state health officials reported. Cleveland County had 202 hospitalizations linked to the flu, officials said.
Elswick writes for Muskogee Phoenix, a CNHI News Service publication.