Officials unsure why flu season was mild in Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The 2012 flu season is ending in Oklahoma with fewer than one-half the number of confirmed cases and nearly two-thirds fewer deaths than in 2011.

State health officials say the reasons for the decline from 872 hospitalizations and 26 deaths in 2011 to 316 hospitalizations and nine deaths in 2011 are difficult to pinpoint.

The flu season typically runs September to May, but started in January for unknown reasons, said Dr. Kristy Bradley, the state epidemiologist.

"That's just the fascinating aspect of influenza surveillance, no two seasons are ever exactly alike, and what the next year's season will look like is totally unpredictable," Bradley said.

A possible explanation is that the three strains circulating this year, Type-A, Type-B and the H1N1 virus, have also appeared in Oklahoma since 2009.

"Many people already had immunity, either through immunization with the seasonal flu vaccine or from prior illness and recovery," from those strains, Bradley said.

An increase in the number of people receiving flu shots, a statistic not specifically tracked by the department, appeared unlikely.

The department provided about 90,000 doses of flu vaccine to county health departments statewide for the 2012 season, down from about 155,000 last year, according to department spokeswoman Leslea Bennett-Webb.

Pharmacist Lee Gile said she did not see an increase in the number of flu shots provided at her Hospital Discount Pharmacy in Edmond.

"I think the flu maybe wasn't as bad this year because it was the same strains," Gile said. "We probably have coverage from last year's flu shot. My theory."

Oklahoma City resident Kanda Ramos said flu shots for her and her family are something she started taking seriously when she began working for a health-related business about seven years ago.

"My insurance pays for it, I mean seriously," Ramos said regarding the $25 to $35 cost of a flu shot. "Plus, I didn't see the need for it."

Bradley said that even though the flu season is ending in Oklahoma and the United States, there are still those at risk.

"Persons lucky enough to be planning cruises or other travels in the southern hemisphere should remember that the influenza season will just be starting there, so these travelers should consider getting a flu vaccination at least 2 weeks prior to beginning their travels south of the equator."

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