Flu cases had an atypical early rise in Arkansas this fall, but the latest weekly report from the Arkansas Department of Health showed a decrease in new weekly illnesses.
For the week ending Dec. 10, the ADH reported 15,900 positive flu cases since Oct. 2 and a total of 64 flu-related deaths during the same period. The reported cases only reflect a portion of actual illnesses in the state, according to the report.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and hospitals urged flu shots in a Wednesday press release.
“It’s not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones before the holidays,” said Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells. “Get your flu shot now so your body can have the best possible protection by Christmas.”
When looking at the increase of positive cases per week, the numbers gradually started to decline about three weeks ago. In the week ending Dec. 10, the ADH reported 1,700 flu cases statewide. This count was down from 2,300 cases reported the previous week and down from the highest weekly count so far of 2,500 in mid-November. The flu intensity level in Arkansas is still in the “very high” category, but it did move down to the lower level, according to the Wednesday ADH report.
In contrast, weekly flu-related deaths increased for the third consecutive week. Nineteen deaths were recorded during the week ending on Dec. 10, for a total of 64 deaths for the season — 75% of which were unvaccinated, according to the report. This season’s count is already more than double the 30 total deaths reported last year.
Most of the deaths, 44, are among individuals who were 65 or older. Fourteen deaths were Arkansans aged 45-64, five were those aged 25-44 and one was a child aged 5-17. Other demographic information such as location, sex and race or ethnicity are not released.
“Visits to Arkansas health care providers for the flu are exceptionally high, said Joe Thompson, ACHI President and CEO. “Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but we are already seeing a level of infections well above the highest average peak in the past five years. It is time to take precautions — safeguard others if you have symptoms by staying home, get tested for treatment, protect yourself and get the shot.”
The public school absenteeism rate for the week ending Dec. 10 was 7.8%, but 33 counties exceeded that rate. Izard County in North Central Arkansas reported the highest rate with 12.31%, according to the report. Pulaski County was similar to the statewide rate at 7.88%.
Nursing homes and other congregate living institutions have reported 19 outbreaks since Oct. 2, according to the report. Other details about the settings are not released.
Information about where to find a flu shot can be found here.