More than 37 children across the country have died during a nasty flu outbreak that is already one of the worst on record, even though the season typically peaks in February.
But Texas televangelist Gloria Copeland thinks there's nothing to worry about. In fact, she says she doesn't believe there's such a thing as a flu season.
"We got a duck season, a deer season, but we don't have a flu season," she said in a video posted to Facebook last week. "And don't receive it when somebody threatens you with, 'Everyone's getting the flu!' "
Her remarks come as physicians insist people get their flu shots, as 85 percent of the children who have died were probably not vaccinated, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald told Reuters last month. The flu vaccine does not guarantee against illness, but experts say data suggests vaccinations make the flu milder.
It's not the first time Copeland — who told her viewers in the video that "Jesus himself gave us the flu shot" and "redeemed us from the curse of flu" — has insisted people put their health in God's hands. She once bragged during a conference that she and her husband did not need prescription drugs because the Lord heals all illnesses, according to the Associated Press.
In 2015, Copeland was featured in a segment of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" that accused televangelists of manipulating and defrauding their followers. Oliver played a clip of her preaching, in which she talked to her viewers about cancer.
"We know what's wrong with you. You've got cancer. The bad news is we don't know what to do about it — except give you some poison that will make you sicker," Copeland said in the clip. "Now, which do you want to do? Do you want to do that, or do you want to sit in here on a Saturday morning, hear the word of God, and let faith come into your heart and be healed?"
In 2013, her husband Kenneth Copeland, also a televangelist, was criticized when the family's North Texas megachurch found itself at the center of a measles outbreak. Many of the congregants had not been vaccinated, and 21 people fell ill with the contagious disease, the AP reported.
"To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear — that you doubted God would keep you safe. . . . We simply didn't do it," a former church member, Amy Arden, told the AP at the time.
Copeland last week told her viewers to protect themselves with the "word of God."
"If you say, 'Well, I don't have any symptoms of the flu,' well, great! That's the way it's supposed to be," she said. "Just keeping saying that. 'I'll never have the flu. I'll never have the flu.' Put words. Inoculate yourself with the word of God."
The family's organization, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, could not be immediately reached for comment.
According to the CDC, "the time from when a person is exposed to flu virus and infected to when symptoms begin is about one to four days, with an average of about two days."
The public health agency notes that "people who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly, not gradually:"
• Fever or feeling feverish/chills
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
•Fatigue (very tired)
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in young children than in adults.
But "not everyone with flu will have a fever," according to the CDC.
As The Washington Post's Lena Sun reported, nearly 12,000 people were hospitalized with the flu since the season began Oct. 1. A report for the week ending Jan. 20 shows the rate of people seeking care is on a par with that of the swine-flu pandemic of 2009. CDC officials predict the number of pediatric deaths is likely to approach or exceed the 148 deaths reported during the especially severe flu season of 2014 and 2015.
In the Copeland family's home state, nearly 14.5 percent of hospital and doctor visits during the last week of January were for flu-related symptoms, according to the San Antonio Express-News.