OKLAHOMA CITY — While this year's flu season turned out to be one of the worst in years, new evidence shows the season isn't over quite yet.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week issued a warning that a new strain of flu is making a push in the country.
The predominant strain for this season’s outbreak has been influenza A, specifically H3N2, said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation immunologist Eliza Chakravarty. Cases of this strain of flu are now on the decline. But flu cases involving another strain — influenza B — appear to be surging.
“Flu season is generally winding down, but we aren’t in the clear, and people need to remain vigilant in protecting themselves and their families, especially young children,” Chakravarty said. “Influenza B can be just as serious as influenza A, and it has been known to be severe in young children.”
While this year's flu shot has proven to be largely ineffective against H3N2, it does appear to be far more effective in preventing influenza B, officials said, meaning getting a flu shot still is the best possible defense against contracting the virus.
“It is actually possible to get sick with multiple strains of the flu during a single season,” Chakravarty said. “The flu is miserable. Don’t go through it if you don’t have to, especially twice.”
Health officials say almost twice as many Oklahomans have died from influenza this season than any previous season on record.
Oklahoma Department of Health said Thursday that 253 people have died from the virus since the flu season began on Sept. 1 — the most fatalities since the agency began tracking the illness in 2009. The previous record death toll of 130 was recorded a year ago.
In addition, 4,551 people have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms so far this season — also a record.
The Health Department says 1,146 people have been hospitalized with the flu in Tulsa County, more than any other county. Oklahoma County has the second-highest number of hospitalizations with 770.
Most influenza-related fatalities, 178, have occurred among people 65 years old or older.
“If you can physically get the flu shot, do it, even this late into the flu season,” Chakravarty said. “This virus is deadly. You will not get the flu from the shot; that is a myth that needs to be eliminated. The shot can save your life or the life of someone you love.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.