LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — Four more flu related deaths have been reported in Arkansas bringing the total number of deaths to 12. All have been individuals over 65 years old.
With all the hallmarks of a severe flu season in place, doctors are urging people to take precautions right now. The Arkansas Department of Health says in the last week, there have been as many reported flu cases as the previous five weeks combined.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control has sent out a statement urging people to seek care and medication as soon as any symptoms arise. Dr. Leslie Parks with Central Arkansas Urgent Care in Cabot, said she has been seeing a lot of flu patients since the week before thanksgiving.
“Each week it has increased,” she said. “This week it is widespread in the central Arkansas area.”
She said the flu hasn't picked favorites this year. She has treated patients of all ages including entire families, whole classrooms and entire grades. The CDC has sent out new recommendations for doctors asking that they begin antiviral treatment like Tamiflu as soon as possible after the onset of an illness. They ask that doctors not delay treatment even for a few hours to wait for test results.
Arkansas Epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow said immediate treatment is necessary because this flu season is unique.
“This appears to be an early season that's nearly two months earlier than we normally see,” he said. “We're already at the same activity level we've seen in the peaks of the last few seasons so this has the hallmarks of a severe flu season.”
Haselow said that treatment is especially important for high-risk individuals like children and adults over 65, pregnant women, people with suppressed immune systems and chronic health problems, and people in nursing homes. Also, with upcoming holiday activities, if you are planning to attend any parties or large events, Dr. Parks and Dr. Hasleow said people need to be extra cautious while they are out.
“Absolutely go out and have a safe and fun time, but you may limit your personal space and avoid coughing,” Dr. Parks said. “Definitely don't share drinks.”
The Arkansas Department of Health said during this time of year, people are at a higher risk for infections like strep or pneumonia. Those can become especially dangerous if you catch those along with the flu.
Doctor Parks recommends washing hands and cleaning cell phones and keyboards regularly. She also said that if you notice any symptoms of the flu, seek medical care and then stay home so you don't infect anyone else.