Arkansas health official: Deaths from flu could top 50

    6:48 PM, Jan 24, 2014   |    comments
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    Generic Photo of Flu Patient. (Photo: Thinkstock)

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas is at the peak of a flu season that has already killed 25 people in the state, but could see the number of flu-related deaths double in the coming weeks, the state's epidemiologist warned lawmakers on Friday.

    Dr. Dirk Haselow told members of the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees that the state is investigating several additional deaths to see if they are related to the flu. Haselow said he believed the state is at the peak of the season, but that there's still time for those who haven't been vaccinated to get their shots.

    "One thing to keep in mind is, typically when we see deaths from the flu we see the majority of them in the latter half of the flu season because it takes some time for the flu to cause damage to the lining of the lungs and then for people to develop a secondary bacterial infection," Haselow said. "I don't have a crystal ball, but I would not be surprised if our death count is over 50, even though we're at 25 now."

    State health officials have said the flu this year has hit many of those not normally considered the most vulnerable. The average age of those who have died in the state from the flu is 49, but ages ranged from two months to 77 years, Haselow said. None of them appeared to have been vaccinated against the flu, he said.

    Last year's flu season was one of Arkansas' worst in more than 35 years, with 61 people in the state dying, and tens of thousands seeking care, he said. At this point, 15 percent of the state's emergency room visits and 10 percent of doctor's visits are related to the flu, Haselow said.

    Some other flu tips include:

    1.The flu vaccine is very well-matched to the flu strains circulating this season. H1N1 is the strain being seen most frequently and the flu vaccine does have that strain included.

    2.The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

    3.People with egg allergy can get a flu vaccine, but it is recommended that they receive that flu vaccine in the care of their doctor or an immunologist. There is a flu vaccine called FluBlok that does not contain eggs. It is recommended only for people between the ages of 18 and 49.

    4.The flu vaccine offers 60% protection against getting the flu, 70% protection against hospitalization from the flu, and 80% protection against death from flu. If you get the flu vaccine and still get the flu, the vaccine will help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

    Haselow said the state is still encouraging people to get the flu shot.

    "It's not too late for anyone to get their flu shot," he said. "It's effective, it's safe and it's certainly worthwhile."

    (Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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