The coughs can be heard across the metro, as many Oklahomans battle complications from influenza or related illnesses. But in Oklahoma City homeless shelters, a flu epidemic can have dire consequences for both members of the high-risk population they serve and the service providers who work within them.
Antoinette Sanders, executive director of social services and disaster services at The Salvation Army, said she has seen a 10-percent increase the number of shelter residents with flu symptoms this season.
"We are by no means set up to take care of sick people, but we try to provide a safe environment for all," Sanders said. "And if it appears that they are ill, we can isolate them until they are able to get to a health care facility."
While such shelters as City Rescue Mission and The Salvation Amy offer free flu shots to the homeless as a preventative measure, this year's vaccine hasn't been as effective in protecting against illness.
"This year, there was enough of a drift of a couple of the strains of influenza, so they are not an optimum match to this year's flu vaccine," said State Epidemiologist Kristy Bradley, adding that the flu shot is only protecting against 40 percent of the season's viruses.
And flu can be fatal. The Centers for Disease Control reports that for the week ending Feb. 9, 7.6 percent of all deaths in its 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza, which is above the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent. "Deborah Benjamin