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Health & Science

Arkansas flu deaths increase to 94 this season


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — State health officials say two dozen Arkansas residents died from the flu last week, pushing the total for the season to 94, and cautioned that based on previous outbreaks the state could see a total of about 270 before spring.

A number that high would be a modern record, passing the 109 deaths from three years ago. No other year this century has had more than 76.

"I'm very concerned by the impact and the severity of the flu season this year," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a state Capitol news conference with Arkansas Department of Health officials. He said he wanted them to counsel residents directly.

The state's surgeon general, Dr. Greg Bledsoe, said it wasn't too late to receive a flu shot, and Dr. Nathaniel Smith, the Health Department director and the state's chief health officer, said that by this time of the flu season Arkansas typically has seen only about a third of the deaths from flu. That suggests the total could go much higher.

"Typically we will see flu seasons peak for about 2 or 3 weeks. This season it's been longer," he said. Emergency room visits are beginning to level off, he said, and outpatient visits to doctors are declining. "Typically, it won't stay this high for too much longer."

Dr. Dirk Haselow, the state epidemiologist, said that of the state's 94 flu victims, about one-third had received a flu shot.

"That is lower than the vaccination levels in the general population so we interpret that as, unfortunately, opportunities missed," he said.

Smith said that while most vaccination efforts target someone's personal protection, people need to be mindful that receiving a flu shot can help protect loved ones. Holding clinics at schools has likely helped save lives, he said.

"There are many older Arkansans who have risk factors. Babies. Pregnant Women. Smokers," he said. "I may be fine, but they're not."

"Children can take the flu home and spread it to grandma and grandpa, or the baby, or a pregnant mother. By preventing them (children) from getting the flu, we are also protecting the community."


Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kisselAP