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Record-breaking flu season in Oklahoma may be ending, no new deaths reported in the past week

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A record-breaking flu season in Oklahoma appears to be near an end, according to an epidemiologist with the State Department of Health.

The department reported no additional deaths and one hospitalization in the past week after 107 people died and about 2,200 were hospitalized due to the virus since the season began Sept. 28. The previous record of 72 deaths set last year was broken in February.

"It does seem to be the case," that the season is winding down, said Laurence Burnsed. "The typical flu season can go from October through April. We usually see a peak around January or February."

The previous record of 72 deaths during a single flu season, set last year, was broken in February. The department has tracked the record since 2009.

Burnsed said the sharp increase in flu-related deaths could likely be attributed in part to the flu vaccine that was rated as only 18 to 23 percent effective.

"In practical terms that meant it reduced a person's risk of having to seek medical care at a doctor's office for flu related illness by 23 percent, or 18 percent, depending on which number you want to use," said Burnsed.

"It occasionally happens," he said. "This is why flu happens every year. One thing that flu is really good about doing is evolving," often becoming a variation of previous strains.

"The predominant strain was H3N2. Unfortunately that was the strain there was a slight (vaccine) mismatch to," Burnsed said. "The H3N2, that one tends to be associated with the more severe season, especially in the older population and those younger than 5.

People older than 65 tend to be most susceptible because of underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or respiratory problems.

Of the 107 who died in Oklahoma, 82 were 65 or older and 15 were 50-64, the 5-17 and the 18-49 age groups each had four deaths and two were 4-years-old or younger.

The greatest number of deaths, 22, have been recorded in Tulsa County, followed by 14 in Oklahoma County, the state's two most populous counties. No other county has recorded more than six flu deaths.

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