LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) — As flu cases and deaths grow in Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson called a press conference today to address the epidemic with the Arkansas Department of health.
There are now 94 flu-related deaths, two of them children. There’s extreme concern for the health and safety of all Arkansans.
The flu is affecting people nationwide, but is much more severe in the state than previous years this early in the season.
“Why is this year worse than previous years? That's a difficult question to answer, I don't have a good explanation for that,” said Dr. Nate Smith, director of the Health Department.
Four strains of flu are active in Arkansas right now, influenza H3-N2 is the most dominant.
“If folks want to go back to work or back to school, they need to be without any symptoms for at least 24 hours,” said Dr. Gary Wheeler, Health Department Chief Medical Officer.
This is issue has been affecting all counties.
“We are generally higher than our surrounding states, and using some metrics we've been thought to be 2nd highest in the nation,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow said.
Everyone is still encouraged to take advantage of preventative measures like the vaccine.
“Proper hand washing is important," Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe said. "Be obsessive about washing your hands and not touching your mouth or nose. Be careful about touching other people.”
While not 100 percent effective, the vaccine could slow transmission if you get infected and decrease symptoms. School absentee rates are also a big concern.
“The county that hit me the as having the highest rate was Scott County with almost 13 percent,” Governor Hutchinson said.
Among the 94 deaths reported, only a third were flu vaccinated.
Dr. Smith thinks the country should invest in a universal vaccine that covers all strains to be effective year after year.
“We don't have that right now, it’s an area of active research and probably needs to be a high priority for us as a nation in terms of scientific investigation,” he said.
Getting the flu more than once in a season is possible.
Cases are predicted to decrease within a week or two. But as the season hasn't peaked yet, if you suspect infection don't go in public unless fever-free for 24 hours.