LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Nine people, including a child, have died from the flu in Arkansas this season, and health officials said Friday there are indications that the pace of the outbreak is picking up steam.
At Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Infection Prevention and Control Director Craig Gilliam said doctors have confirmed more cases, 41, this year than all of the last flu season.
"Generally, we don't see the first lab confirmation of influenza until maybe mid-January," Gilliam said.
This week's confirmations are double from last week, he said.
"Our numbers are unusually high compared to the last couple of seasons," Gilliam said.
Arkansas Health Department spokesman Ed Barham said there is no indication that the spread of the flu is slowing, despite data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that some neighboring states have worse outbreaks.
"It's even and steady and bad across the state," Barham said.
The severity of flu season varies by year and the past couple of seasons have been comparatively mild. But in 2009, 54 people died from the flu in Arkansas, the worst in recent years.
Gilliam and Barham said it's wise to be vaccinated against the flu and that it's not too late, even though the virus is spreading. Gilliam said it is particularly important for parents and siblings of infants to be vaccinated as young babies can't receive the vaccine.
The vaccine is recommended for everyone six months or older.
People with respiratory problems, compromised immune systems or other underlying health problems are at greatest risk for flu complications, the most common of which is bacterial pneumonia, Gilliam said. And among children, those with cancer, congenital heart problems and cystic fibrosis are most likely to suffer complications that require hospitalization, he said.
Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly, with fever, headache, body aches, an unproductive cough and chills. Other respiratory viruses are also circulating and can have similar symptoms, Gilliam said.
Barham said there is an adequate supply of vaccine, though there have been some spot shortages. If a health unit runs out of vaccine, more can be brought over from nearby clinics, he said.
The CDC said its recent flu reports included the holidays when some doctor's offices were closed. Central Arkansas was also beset by a winter storm that struck on Christmas Day and left more than 260,000 electric customers without power.
Gilliam said getting a flu shot, frequent hand washing and keeping unvaccinated babies away from large crowds or people with symptoms of respiratory illness are the best preventive measures.