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January 8, 2014

Fighting the flu could continue into spring

DUNCAN — Getting a flu shot is not out of the question.

In fact, the Oklahoma Department of Health is still recommending people take advantage of getting the flu shot as flu season enters its peak time, which traditionally lands between January and February.

“The most important thing to do is get the flu vaccine,” Leslie Bennett-Webb, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Health, said. “If anyone is wondering if the flu vaccine they got in September is still good, it is. The flu vaccine last about a year.”

Bennett-Webb said the Oklahoma Department of Health has seen an increase in influenza-like illnesses and an increase in flu-related hospitalizations. This year, the H1N1 strain is the most common form of influenza seen in Oklahoma.

Although she’s unsure if the Stephens County Health Department still has the flu inoculation, she knows several pharmacies in the area do carry the flu vaccination.

At Duncan Public Schools, school nurse Chris Watkins said, since returning to school Monday, following Winter Break, no students with flu like symptoms have reported to her office.

“Since we have just gotten back from Christmas break, so far we have not seen the flu,” Watkins said. “However, the flu updates for our state have dramatically increased in the past two weeks. So, I think it is a matter of time before we start seeing it at school.”

Although some people choose not to get the flu vaccination, Bennett-Webb said there are preventative measures people can take to avoid getting sick, including washing hands. To avoid spreading germs and the flu virus, those who are sick should cough into their sleeves instead of their hands, she said.

“We would expect to see an increase in flu-related hospitalizations,” Bennett-Webb said. “The flu season peaks in January, February. And it can last into April or May.

“It’s been very cold and people have been staying inside more. When they’re inside with a lot of people, it can move the flu around more. Last week, we saw a double increase in flu-related hospitalizations. We’re definitely seeing an increase of influenza-like illnesses.”

Watkins said she’s usually holding her breath to make it through Spring Break without an influenza outbreak. In late January 2013 into early February 2013, Plato Elementary and Will Rogers Pre-Kindergarten Center closed because of the flu virus.

By the time DPS Superintendent Sherry Labyer made the decision to close the schools, both had dropped below 75 percent attendance. In fact, Will Rogers had eight teachers and 76 students out because of the flu.

Watkins said the school nurses at each Duncan site is working with faculty, staff and students to encourage them to take proper precautions.

“(We’re) keeping our fingers crossed, while emphasizing good hand washing and covering your cough,” Watkins said.

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