The Oklahoma State Health Department is reporting the first flu-related deaths this season. There have been three total in the last week compared to at least 114 last season.
Vomiting and diarrhea are often mistaken for flu symptoms which are much different and last much longer.
“My friends will even say my whole family has the flu. We’ve all had vomiting and diarrhea. Those are not symptoms typically associated with the flu,” Oklahoma State Department of Health epidemiologist Kendra Dougherty said.
It is a common misconception, but they are most likely symptoms of a stomach virus. The flu is a respiratory illness, and symptoms include coughing, sore throat and fever.
Flu season begins in October and lasts through March. So far this year, three Oklahomans have died in Harper, Rogers and Tulsa Counties. One was between 50 and 64 years of age, and the other two were 65 or older. Most flu deaths are a result of other existing medical conditions.
“If they didn’t have an underlying condition, then maybe they got a secondary bacterial infection on top of the flu which is another possibility,” Dougherty said.
This year's flu vaccine is much more effective than in recent years at 59 percent. It's typically closer to 50 percent, and last season it was in the upper teens.
Last year's flu strain was different than what was in the vaccine. It is a bit of guess work, and health officials have to decide what strains to include in the vaccine at least six months in advance. This year they got lucky. There is also a second type of vaccine patients can get that covers more strains, but you have to ask for it.
“If you’d like to be protected from the two most likely circulating B strains, you can request the quadrivalent vaccine which includes the two strains that are most likely circulating and then the two B strains,” Dougherty said.
Health officials say you are not contagious after being fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medication. If you work in a hospital setting, you're asked to wait a week before returning to work.