LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - We may be weeks away from peak flu season, but the virus is already making its way through Arkansas. The state has seen 5 deaths this flu season.
Dr. Gary Wheeler, branch chief of infectious disease for the Arkansas Department of Health said the number of people visiting the doctor is above average and has been on the increase since the start of December.
"We had a rough year last year. We had a large number of cases, we had more deaths than we had seen in almost decades and we're on that track this year."
Dr. Wheeler said the dominant strain is H1N1, which is concerning health officials since the virus mainly affects young and middle-age adults.
"Young healthy people, who don't otherwise have problems, particularly like teenagers and young adults are going to the ICU because of infection."
Wheeler said the good news is that strain is included in this year's flu vaccine, which experts say is the best way to protect yourself from the illness.
"It's still a great time and you have every reason in the world to go get a flu shot if you haven't had one to help limit the amount of harm that you may have."
Dr. Wheeler said there's no way of knowing if you're going to be one of those fatal cases.
"We know that, clearly if you get the influenza vaccine you are less likely to acquire the illness, you're less likely to be hospitalized, you're less likely to die from infection."
Wheeler said the numbers indicate that we're right in the middle of flu season. He is hopeful that the break from school may help slow the spread.
"Right now we're hitting at about 8 or 9 percent as just an average across Arkansas and in some hospitals it's up to 30 or 40 percent."
Dr. Wheeler said flu season usually lasts until the first of April, so if you get your shot today then the protection should start in about 10 to 14 days.