Cherokee Nation citizen Stacie Guthrie receives a flu shot from licensed practical nurse Sharon Morton at the Gadugi Health Clinic in Tahlequah, Okla. JAMI CUSTER/CHEROKE PHOENIX

Influenza hits CN but vaccines still available

Nationwide, during the week that ended on Jan. 12, 4.6 percent of patient visits reported to the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network were due to influenza-like illness. This percentage is above the national baseline of 2.2 percent. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL By Jan. 12, the Centers for Disease Control reported that the flu had reached 48 states and influenza activity remained elevated in the United States. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL To help fight against influenza and inform people about the virus, Dr. Jorge Mera, of Cherokee Nation Health Services, provides a presentation on Jan. 18 in Tahlequah, Okla. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Nationwide, during the week that ended on Jan. 12, 4.6 percent of patient visits reported to the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network were due to influenza-like illness. This percentage is above the national baseline of 2.2 percent. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL
02/01/2013 08:01 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With more than 230 people testing positive for influenza within the Cherokee Nation, officials say tribal health clinics have vaccines available and urge people to get one.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It causes mild to severe illness, and at times, leads to death. Some people, such as older people, young children and people with certain health conditions, are higher risks for flu complications.

“The flu is a virus and viruses are very, very smart you might say,” Dr. Roger Montgomery, CN medical director, said. “They change themselves every year and try to morph themselves so they can have a better success of causing illness. And there are also different strains out there, and so the CDC tries to come up with an idea of what strains of virus will cause illness each year and the vaccine has three different kinds of strains of virus in it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this flu season has produced a high outbreak with more than 3,600 people hospitalized since October, most of them older than 65, and at least 20 children’s deaths.

By Jan. 12, the CDC reported the flu had reached 48 states and activity remained elevated. On average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the population gets influenza. This season, it’s hit more than 30 percent.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, flu season began on Sept. 30. Since then there have been more than 500 related hospitalizations and eight related deaths in the state.

There are three types of flu viruses: A, B and C. Types A and B cause the epidemics that have up to 20 percent of the population sniffling, aching, coughing and running fevers. Type C also causes flu, but its symptoms are less severe.

The Type A virus constantly changes and is spread by infected people. Type B flu may cause a less severe reaction, but occasionally it can still be harmful. Type C viruses are milder than type A and B. People generally do not become extremely ill from them and they do not cause epidemics.

The flu usually starts suddenly and may include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue and tiredness. Some people have vomiting and diarrhea, though it’s more common in children.

Some complications caused by flu are pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems or ear infections.

“The deaths that you see reported are not really from the virus itself. They’re from the super-imposed illness that occurs after they’ve had influenza that causes them to develop respiratory failure and pneumonia,” Montgomery said.

The flu spreads by droplets released by coughing and sneezing. Occasionally touching something with a virus on it and then touching the mouth or nose may cause infection. People with the flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away.

“That’s why we emphasize if you’re out there going to work, going to public places, touching objects that other people touch don’t take your hand and rub your nose without first washing your hands thoroughly and wash them frequently,” Montgomery said.

People with flu are contagious and can infect others beginning one day before getting symptoms. Adults remain contagious up to seven days after getting sick, and children can remain contagious even longer.

“If you came in contact with the person who had the flu, you’ve contracted the virus,” Dr. Sohail Khan, of CN Health Services, said. “Within two days you will start to develop symptoms, and the important thing to remember is that you can be infectious for the next five to seven days.”

The best way to prevent the flu is vaccination. The vaccination rate for the American Indian/Alaskan Native population is 29 percent, according to Indian Health Services.

“I think as a group, because the prevalent of diabetes is so great, that it’s just recommended broadly that all Native Americans be vaccinated,” Montgomery said.

According to WebMD, the vaccine is highly effective for preventing the flu, though not 100 percent. People can get the flu despite getting vaccinated, although it’s usually less severe and resolves quicker. According to the CDC, vaccines given this year appear to be about 62 percent effective overall. Of people who got the flu, 32 percent were vaccinated.

“It can either completely eliminate you from having any symptoms at all or it can, the word we use is, attenuate,” Montgomery said. “It can lessen the severity of the duration of symptoms that you have.”

There are two types of vaccines: the shot and nasal spray. The shot is contains a dead virus that’s given with a needle. The shot given in the muscle is for people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. The shot given below the skin is for 18- to 64-year-olds.

The nasal spray vaccine contains live, weakened viruses. It’s for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. Neither vaccine causes the flu.

It takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop that protect against infection for the entire year. Flu vaccines will not protect against illnesses caused by other viruses such as the common cold.

If positive for flu, there are antiviral drugs that can be used to treat the illness.

“The main one that most people have heard about is called Tamiflu,” Montgomery said. “It’s most effective if you start it within 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms.”

Annual vaccination is recommended for everyone regardless of past vaccination status or flu infection. Vaccination should begin in September or as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the flu season, which can last as late as May.

To view a CN Health Services flu presentation, visit
and click on influenza presentation.

918-453-5000, ext. 6139


Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
02/11/2016 04:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – With New Year’s gone, many people are following up on resolutions to get healthy, and some are going to the Cherokee Nation’s Male Seminary Recreation Center to do so. MSRC Primary Prevention Projects Supervisor Nick Kirk, who is also a fitness trainer, said for gym newcomers, he and his fellow trainers are there to help them learn how to correctly exercise. “We have a lot of technique-based moves that we have to teach,” he said. “We start them on the basics, how to squat, how to do a proper push-up, how to just get them moving a little bit to just kind of ease (them) from the overwhelming side of it. We want to make sure that we nail the basics first.” He said it’s important to exercise frequently to maintain longevity and strength as we get older. To help do that the gym offers classes such as spin, Zumba and boot camps. “Boot camp classes is a lot of cross-training,” he said. “You’re doing various, different types of movements. It’s something different each day. You could be running one day, but doing minimal exercises. There’s probably over 20 moves that we teach and incorporate here for our classes.” Kirk said the MSRC offers five boot camps, with one beginner class. Regular boot camps take place at 5 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5:20 p.m., Monday through Friday. The beginner class is at 6:30 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. Kirk said most early classes average about 25 people, but during his class he often sees 30 people. He also sees various age groups participating in the boot camps. “If you come to the 9 o’clock (a.m.) class it’s more of an older population. There’s a few younger ones but typically it’s probably 40s to 60s, and I think our oldest member is 72. That’s the most diverse class,” he said. “Noon is probably more of the people in college and people that are working steady that have to come during their lunch break. Morning classes are kind of a combination. And then the 5:20 p.m. is kind of a combination of it all.” Kirk said when it comes to his class he knows many participants on a first-name basis, and when new people join he helps them learn the basics before they get to harder exercises. “You kind of have to introduce the movements and kind of start them down on a very basic movement list,” he said. Kirk said when it comes to shedding weight his cousin is a “success” story thanks to MSRC classes. “He started at 315 pounds and now he weighs, I think, 185. He’s in here all the time. He’s had a huge success with classes and stuff,” he said. “There’s just a handful of people that we could talk about that have seen benefits from our classes and kind of gravitate toward different trainers and our regimen that we do here.” He said a good way to maintain weight loss is regularly going to the gym. “Just keep coming back,” he said. “Obviously motivation plays a big part of that so they come here and they rely on us. We’re the ones that kind of give them that motivation to keep going and keep pushing.” Kirk said exercising is important for Native Americans because of high diabetes rates. “That’s just how it’s always been with Cherokee Nation citizens,” he said. “It’s important to keep that in check by regulating that. It’s (type 2 diabetes) very avoidable by exercising, but a lot of people don’t know how to exercise so they need to come and ask for advice and help and that’s what we are.” Kirk said he got involved with exercising when he was in the seventh grade. His wanting to learn more about exercise and the body eventually led him to a master’s degree in health and kinesiology. “After that I just started wanting to know more about the science behind it and trying to educate myself more on the movements and how to eat properly,” he said. CN citizen Walter Pigeon said Kirk’s boot camps are perfect for him. “It’s just a really intense boot camp. For me, that’s what I like, is a high-intensity workout, basically everything that Nick puts us through.” Pigeon said he’s attended the gym for about two years and has seen significant fitness improvements. “I’ve been here for two years and my fitness is awesome,” he said. “Not bragging on myself, bragging on the staff. All the equipment we have here is just awesome. You have a variety, not just boot camp, but the whole gym. The experience is awesome for anyone.” The MSRC also has treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers and other exercise machines. There is also a free weight room, resistance room, basketball court, outside track and personal trainers. The MSRC is open from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Membership is free for CN citizens and employees and their immediate families. The center also offers child watch from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday. For more information, call 918-453-5496 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
02/09/2016 10:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation and the Oklahoma Blood Institute is teaming up to invite area residents to the Blood Donor Challenge on Feb. 18. Those interested in donating can do so from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the tribe’s ballroom behind the Restaurant of the Cherokees. Those who donate have the option to receive a “Blood Donor Challenge” T-shirt. If a blood donor wishes to not take the T-shirt the OBI can in turn make a contribution to the Global Blood Fund, which is a charity that provides supplies and equipment for blood centers in the world’s poorest countries. According to an OBI press release, the OBI relies on donations from an average of 1,000 donors each day to meet the needs of patients in the 154 Oklahoma hospitals it exclusively serves. Donating blood takes approximately an hour. Photo identification is required to donate at OBI blood drives. Participants must be 16 years old or older to donate. Participants who are 16 years old must provide a signed parental permission form and weigh 125 pounds or more to donate. Those who are 17 years old must weigh 125 pounds or more, and those 18 and older must weigh 110 pounds or more to donate.
Special Correspondent
02/04/2016 02:00 PM
JAY, Okla. – It is estimated that most visits to Cherokee Nation’s medical clinics are diabetic related, a tribal health official said. In 2013, Principal Chief Bill John Baker promised to invest $100 million of casino profits to better the health care and the lives of the Cherokee people. When the initiative was launched Baker said, “Our financial success belongs to the Cherokee people.” The heath care of CN citizens was and still remains a top priority. “There have been many medical success stories,” said Connie Davis, executive director of Health Services, referring to the $100 million initiative. Diabetic care was just one of the many medical conditions problems CN officials wanted to address with the health initiative, she said. “Over 50 percent of the health care visits to our clinics is diabetic related,” Davis said. National data states diabetes affects 25.8 million people, more than 8 percent of the country’s population. And of that number, 7 million people are undiagnosed. It is the seventh-leading cause of death for individuals in the United States, according to national data. “The tribe’s care for diabetic and the A1C program exceeds national averages,” Davis said. The A1C test measures the amount of glucose in a person’s blood over three months. The higher the number means the person’s diabetes is out of control. An A1C level of 14 percent means the estimated average blood sugar level is around 355. Most diabetic patients strive for an AIC number of 6, an estimated blood sugar level of around 126. The tribe is working to beat the national average of 6, Davis said. The tribe also collaborated with the University of Oklahoma and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to eradicate Hepatitis C within the tribe, Davis said. “No one in the United States is doing this,” she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver. Most people become infected with the virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. For some people, it is a short-term illness but for 70 to 85 percent of infected people, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C, according to data released by the CDC. The tribe has also earmarked a large chunk of the $100 million for buildings. The CN operates a network of eight health centers and one hospital throughout its jurisdiction. “Half of the money went to new clinics and clinic expansions,” Davis said. Some of those improvements included expanding the Wilma Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell and the Redbird Smith Health Center in Sallisaw. Other projects included the construction of a new 28,000-square-foot Cooweescoowee Health Center in Ochelata and the ongoing construction of a new 42,000–square-foot Sam Hider Health Center in Jay. An Indian Health Service Joint Venture Construction program increased the Three Rivers Health Center in Muskogee to more than 100,000 square-feet and is the largest center in the CN health system. Another joint venture with the IHS will build a new 450,000-square-foot medical center in Tahlequah. The new hospital will replace the 30-year-old facility, W.W. Hastings Hospital, which serves more than 400,000 patient visits annually. Hastings averages 4,600 hospital admissions, 13,000 inpatient days, 1,000 newborn admissions and more than 350,000 visits annually, according to the tribe’s website. The tribe also has plans for a partnership with Oklahoma State University to recruit, train and hire Cherokee doctors. The tribe’s other clinics are the Will Rogers Health Center in Nowata, A-Mo Health Center in Salina and the Vinita Health Center, which is the first to offer an on-site Wellness Workout Center. Baker spoke before the U.S. House Interior Appropriation Subcommittee in 2014 about how a joint venture with the CN would benefit many citizens. Innovative programs, such as a joint venture, can help reduce the $2.2 billion health construction backlog, according to his testimony. “The Affordable Care Act has been great for tribes,” Amanda Clinton, CNB Communications and Govern director, said. She added that many tribal citizens have been able to obtain extremely low-cost insurance under the Affordable Care Act, some for just pennies on the dollar. “Many of these patients never had insurance prior to the Affordable Care Act.” Most CN health centers offer medical, dental, lab, radiology, public health, WIC, nutrition, contract health, pharmacy, behavioral health, optometry, community health service and mammography. The Jack Brown Center in Tahlequah serves CN citizens who may be struggling with an alcohol or drug dependency.
02/03/2016 02:00 PM
STILWELL, Okla. – A carved maple tree statue titled “Perseverance” designed by five Cherokee artists was unveiled and dedicated on Jan. 24 in the lobby of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center. The Cherokee Nation commissioned the piece to enhance the entrance of the 28,000-square-foot Mankiller Health Center addition that opened in 2015. “We have a new world-class health care facility in Stilwell that is serving the needs of the Cherokee people, in the spirit of the way Chief Mankiller served our tribal nation. Local Cherokee artisans created a beautiful piece commemorating her leadership, and we are proud to showcase this new sculpture as it welcomes future patrons and visitors into the clinic’s lobby,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “It represents the strength and courage of the Cherokee people.” The nearly 12-foot tall statue is adorned with three turtles exceeding boundaries and expectations by climbing a tree, representing the Cherokee people. The turtles represent striving toward the goals and ideals set by Cherokee ancestors. Stones at the base of the statue represent the difficult paths that the ancestors walked. The statue represents principles of the Cherokee people and former Principal Chief Mankiller: goals of community, prosperity and working together. At the top of the statue sits a pearl-inlaid butterfly, representing Mankiller, who lived in the Rocky Mountain community near Stilwell, and her hopes for the bright future of the Cherokee people. Mankiller served as principal chief from 1985-95. She died on April 6, 2010, at her Adair County home in Oklahoma at age 64. A group of Cherokee artists – Devon Tidwell-Isaacs, Daniel Flynn, Roger Cain, Shawna Cain and Reuben Cain – which goes by Stilwell I.T., said the statue symbolizes the Cherokee people’s endurance to overcome and ability to prosper. “It is very important that we realize we need to be strong as a community and that while we face a lot of hardships and difficulties and obstacles that we are perseverant and resilient as a people, and this artwork is a testament to those qualities,” Tidwell-Isaacs said. The statue also has a carved quote from Mankiller in the trunk of the tree. It states, “The secret of our success is that we never, never give up.” Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center employees donated rocks from local communities for the base of the statue. The maple tree used for the statue is from Asheville, North Carolina, part of the Cherokee people’s original homeland.
Reporter – @cp_jmurphy
02/02/2016 04:00 PM
OKTAHA, Okla. – Nine-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen Abby York has a genetic mutation called Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome or Glut1 DS that impairs brain metabolism. She was diagnosed with it at age 6, and Allen York, Abby’s father, said that to his knowledge about 1 in 90,000 births develop the disorder. He said his daughter was behind as an infant on meeting all of her developmental milestones. “She was delayed with walking, talking, feeding herself and potty training. When she did start walking she was very unsteady. She had to wear a helmet to protect her from a brain injury due to she would lose her balance and fall all of the time,” Allen said. “She had her first seizure when she was 2 years old. This progressed to her having 20 to 30 absent seizures a day.” After seeing specialists, running blood work, computerized tomography scans and MRIs, nothing could give the Yorks a diagnosis. After three years, Allen said her second pediatric neurologist found a combination of four anti-convulsing medications that stopped the seizures. “We were excited that the seizures had finally stopped, but we were worried about the long-term side effects of her using these medications,” he said. “Our neurologist recommended that we take her to a movement specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. This doctor ran many more tests and we finally got a diagnosis of Glucose Transporter Type 1 Deficiency Syndrome.” By this time Abby was 6 years old. “She was hospitalized in Fort Worth for a week where they ran more tests and started her on the ketogenic diet, which is the only approved treatment at this time for Glut1,” Allen said. Since the deficiency is incurable, diet is the only way to fight the disorder. The diet needs to be a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carbohydrate one that causes the body to produce and burn ketones for fuel in the absence of glucose, according to <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. “Abby’s life has changed drastically since getting her diagnosis and starting her on the diet. She can read, run and play with her friends. She has been seizure free and off all of the anticonvulsants for almost two years,” Allen said. “She is in her age-appropriate class and is doing pretty well in school. She is an excellent reader, but numbers and logical thinking are a struggle for her. We spend extra time at home working on her problem areas. Even though she still has, and will always have some struggles, this diagnosis has really been a miracle for our family.” According to, Glut1 is the principal transporter of glucose, the primary source of energy, across the blood-brain barrier. If one cannot transport the glucose properly he or she can show signs such as seizures, movement disorders, speech and language disorders and developmental delays. “There are currently a few hundred patients diagnosed worldwide, but experts believe there are thousands more yet to be discovered,” the website states. The Yorks, to raise awareness and improve the lives of other families affected by this disease, host a yearly event in November that includes a 5K, fun run and lunch. “In hopes that others can be diagnosed at an earlier age than our Abby,” he added. “All proceeds from our fundraiser are donated to the Glut1 Deficiency Foundation. This is an all-volunteer foundation made up of parents just wanting to help others.” For more information, email Allen at <a href="mailto:"></a> or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Special Correspondent
12/29/2015 08:15 AM
TULSA — Law enforcement officers with the Bureau of Indian Affairs are getting additional tools to help deal with prescription drug abuse in Indian Country. Officials with the BIA, Indian Health Services and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy announced a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 16 at the Indian Health Resources Center that will allow for the training of BIA officers on how to identify opioid and heroin overdoses and administer an atomized dosage of naloxone. Upon completion of training, officers will be authorized to carry doses of the synthetic drug. If used in time, naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose by counteracting the drug’s depression of the central nervous and respiratory systems, thus allowing the user to breathe normally. The pilot program, which will include Oklahoma-based BIA officers, involves an eight-hour training course. An estimated 230-240 officers are expected to participate in the initial rollout, with the potential for tribal law enforcement officers to be added later on. Officials with the BIA and IHS did not have a concrete timeline for when the training would start in 2016, nor did they have a figure on all of the costs associated with the IHS-funded program. “This is critical in our tribal communities that tend to be more remote and where health care is farther away,” BIA Director Mike Black said. “Our police officers are often the first responders to a scene and many reservations nationwide do not necessarily have immediate access to an around the clock emergency room.” As per the MOU, 91 pharmacies at IHS operated facilities nationwide, including Claremore Indian Hospital and eight other Oklahoma sites, will be authorized to distribute the drug to BIA officers. Pharmacies operated under a tribal self-governance agreement, such as those at the Cherokee Nation’s facilities, are not required to participate in the program. However, Dr. Susan Karol, the chief medical officer for Indian Health Services, said tribally-operated pharmacies would be welcome to participate as well. Cherokee Nation’s Health Department did not respond by deadline as to whether any plans are in place to have its pharmacies participate in the program. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of opioid abuse-related deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives nationwide has increased almost four-fold since 2009. Data collected by IHS indicates that the rate of drug-related deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives is almost double that of the general population. Opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone, are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths. “We know we need a comprehensive response to this,” said Michael Botticelli, the White House’s Director of National Drug Control Policy. “In terms of reducing the overprescribing of prescription drugs, ensuring that treatment is available is critically important. But none of this is sufficient if people die and if we don't save their lives to be able to get them into care and treatment.”