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EMSA medics also struggling with flu

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OKLAHOMA CITY - As flu cases in Oklahoma City continue to rise, the metro's ambulance service is calling for all hands on deck to handle the workload.

EMSA transports of flu patients have gone up 8 percent in Oklahoma City within the last month; 10 percent in Tulsa.

But those EMSA medics are human too and they're not immune to catching the flu themselves.

EMSA Field Supervisor Tony McCarty said during December, they ran a record-high 6,597 transports of flu patients.

But they're also getting sick from being around the sick.

"We put on a uniform and we think we're invincible," McCarty said. "But it still leaves us susceptible to other things."

EMSA medics calling in sick with the flu has increased 25 percent.

So they're putting managers, supervisors and other desk job employees who are clinically trained in the ambulance to handle the load.

"We're all going out on the streets and we're trying to pick up on some of the slack that the employees are not able to take up right now," he said.

The flu shot is still your best defense against the flu but some clinics have run out of the vaccine.

"I've had a real difficult time trying to find one anywhere," Brian Belinski said. "I've been calling for about a week and a half now."

So Belinski brought his 19-year-son to Passport Heath.

This immunization clinic has access to more distributors so they can keep up with demand, especially parents' demands for the flu mist vaccine for kids, which is just as effective as the shot.

"Less crying," Passport Health Director Seth Haymore said.  "It's not so stressful on the nurse, or on the parent, and you don't worry about a needle stick."

But with flu cases skyrocketing across the country, does the flu vaccine really work?

"This year's flu vaccine has about a 62-percent effectiveness rate," Kristy Bradley said, State Epidemiologist at the Oklahoma Department of Health.

Bradley said the flu virus has the ability to change its genetic makeup but there's not a virus mutation epidemic.

She said the shot has worked well against the primary flu strain but lab testing is showing an increase in "Type B" flu infections in Oklahoma.

The vaccine isn't as effective on Type B strains but Bradley said getting "the shot" is still your best defense.

"Even those people that have gotten their flu shot and still get flu, they tend to have a milder course of illness and are less likely to be hospitalized," she said.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department and the Visiting Nurses Association are two of the clinics that still have flu shots available.

High-dose vaccines are recommended for senior citizens because immune systems decline as we age.

Because the flu is very contagious, experts urge you to stay home if you're sick. 

Don't send your kids to school if they're sick.

The virus can live on surfaces everyone touches for up to eight hours.