Influenza intensity in Arkansas increases again, nine deaths in total this season

Influenza intensity in Arkansas increases again, nine deaths in total this season

Flu season is proving to be rampant earlier this season in Arkansas, with intensity rising again and entering the “very high” category last week, according to a report from the state health department.

Compared to previous years, health experts noted that the first few months of the 2022-2023 flu season see a higher number of illnesses. The flu typically peaks in January or February, but since Oct. 2, more than 5,000 illnesses and nine deaths have been reported in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

joel tumlison, medical director of immunizations, said that if high flu numbers continue for several months, “it could turn into a very tough winter respiratory virus season for patients and hospitals. It’s hard to know how long the high number of flu cases will last.”

The actual total number of infected people in the state is higher than the reported numbers, as only a portion of those sick are represented in the count, according to the ADH report. The intensity scale used by the state showed that there are currently only two levels above the “very high” distinction.

Screenshot of the very high flu activity graphArkansas Department of Health
VERY HIGH: The flu is spreading in Arkansas at a very high intensity.

At this point, Tumlison said it’s still too early to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Since Sept. 1, about 460,000 Arkansans have gotten their flu shot, which is about on par compared to 2021 numbers, but some 200,000 doses behind vaccines in 2020. Tumlinson said the first high cases may have infected people before they thought about getting vaccinated. vaccinated

“More troubling is that flu season really started to ramp up in October, when many people are still getting their flu shots for the year,” he said. “People get infected before they have had time to get vaccinated, or before their immune systems have had time to develop. [the] adequate response if recently vaccinated.”

Tumlison added that the law does not require reporting of flu shots, so the number of shots given is likely higher than what they currently include. He said that he expects a significant increase in vaccines throughout November, and then a slow pace after that.

The ADH released its weekly flu report on Wednesday, detailing illnesses and deaths. Seven of the deaths were people 65 and older, and the other two were people ages 45 to 64, according to the report. Since October 2, three outbreaks have been reported in nursing homes, but no geographic information is available for the locations.

The 2021-2022 flu season in Arkansas reported 30 deaths, and Tumlinson said the season was generally considered mild. She said it’s “certainly possible, and probably even expected” that the death count this flu season will exceed 30.

The years in which the COVID-19 pandemic took precedence, the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 flu seasons, flu-related death counts were down significantly from previous years. In 2017, almost 10 times more deaths were reported.

According to the report, the average rate of school absenteeism also increased last week and reached 8.6% in public schools. The report tracks the percentage for each county and 28 counties reported a higher than average rate. Pulaski County reported an absenteeism rate of 10.6%.

Prairie County, which is east of Little Rock, had the highest rate at 18.5%. Polk County, on the state’s western border, followed with the second-highest rate at 17%.

ADH flu reports are released every Wednesday and are detailed for the previous week, so the flu data lags a bit. The most recent data for November 9 announced data for the week ending November 5.

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