Northern Arkansas reports early season uptick in flu cases

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 5:28 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - The latest report from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) data shows the state is seeing an early increase in transmission.

The state entered the “very high” category last week. Compared to recent years, health experts say the early months of this flu season are tallying higher illness counts. Typically flu peaks in January or February, but in the last month, the state has seen more than 5,000 flu illnesses.

“It appears like other illnesses, rhinovirus, and enterovirus, things like that seem to be having higher numbers making people sick at the same time,” said Dr. Joel Tumlison, medical director for immunization with the ADH. “So, for flu, yeah, we can have increased flu rates at this time of the year, but it’s earlier than normal. It happens sometimes, but it’s definitely earlier than normal to see rates as high as we’re seeing them at the end of October and the start of November.”

Tumlison says preventative measures taken to avoid COVID-19 led to significantly lower case numbers for the flu over the last two years.

“In 2020-21, well, there was almost no flu season to speak of, really,” he said. “It really never got above the baseline rates that you would see in the middle of the summer. That was because very extreme measures were being taken to avoid COVID-19, and that also worked for Influenza. Last year not so many measures, but still, more than are being taken now.”

According to the ADH’s latest report, school absences in areas like Little Rock and West Memphis are notably high, especially compared to portions of north Arkansas in the Ozarks.

Local school districts and daycares in Harrison say they’ve been fortunate, not seeing the impact of flu transmission affecting attendance heavily to this point.

“We’ve had several absences but no confirmed cases of flu,” said Kim Sullivan, director with Heart of the Ozarks Early Childhood Development. “We send some home; if they’re running a fever, we send some home because we don’t want to take a chance on anybody else getting sick.”

Tumlison has been with the daycare for 24 years and says she knows the challenges when flu season hits.

“Well, we clean every day, clean throughout the day,” she said. “Especially if we got a notice that someone got the flu, we go in and do extra cleaning.”

While cases are peaking right now, doctors say that only indicates the importance of getting a flu shot.

“Sometimes people think if the flu season has already started really bad, it is too late to go get a flu vaccine, and that’s not true,” said Dr. Tumlison. “Your personal risk if you hadn’t gotten the flu yet still remains high because there’s still a lot of it circulating. So go get vaccinated.”

CLICK HERE to see the report from the ADH.

CLICK HERE to find out where you can get a flu shot locally.

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