Arkansas health officials, particularly in the more populated areas of the state, are reporting an uptick in the number of flu cases, and the Centers for Disease Control is reporting elevated flu rates is nine of the 10 regions of the nation.
Some healthcare workers are seeing patients presenting symptoms who received the vaccine just a few months ago.
“Our clinics generally began seeing an uptick in flu cases in mid-February. As one example, Mercy Convenient Care – Highway 102 is now seeing 10-plus positive cases daily,” said Mercy Health spokeswoman Jennifer Cook.
Dr. Alisha Trent of Mercy Health said taking the vaccine does help protect consumers against the virus.
“However, the CDC just released a report stating that the vaccine is only about 45% effective this year. It is tough. Every year the flu vaccine is made prior to the start of the season, so it is essentially a guess based on data from previous years of what the strain will be. The vaccine is given with the hopes that even some protection will offer people benefit or lessen symptoms,” Trent told Talk Business & Politics.
The flu season typically begins to increase in October and November. Flu activity often peaks between December and March and can continue as late as May, according to the “Flu & You” portion of the CDC website.
The Arkansas Department of Health reports that more than 6,800 Arkansans have tested positive for the flu since Oct. 2. The state is among those with “high” level of intensity. Last week the majority of the 182 cases reported were in Benton, Washington, Sebastian, Crawford, Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner, and Craighead counties.
The state said 90% of the cases show infection with Influenza A and 10% were of the Influenza B strain.
Dr. David Vester of MedExpress in Bentonville said he has seen some patients with the flu who took the vaccine, but said there are plenty of reasons to get the vaccine. He said the viruses are always mutating and while the vaccines do a good job protecting against the known strains, he said some people might still get some flu symptoms if they are exposed to the virus. That said, Vester explained that in those cases the symptoms are typically less severe and exist fewer days than a full-blown flu which can keep a person down for up to 10 days. He said it can take two weeks for the vaccine to reach maximum effectiveness, but it should cover a person throughout a full flu season.
Vester said people who work with children, the elderly or in areas of concentrated populations have a higher risk to get the flu and should take precautions even if they have been vaccinated. He said being well-rested and adequately hydrated, sanitizing hands and surfaces touched are good practices. Vester said flu victims are contagious one day before their symptoms present and that’s often why it can spread so rapidly. He said the earlier symptoms of high fever, runny nose and cough with chills usually set in within two days of exposure and during that time if an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu is given, the recovery time can be reduced as well as the severity of the symptoms.
“There is a very narrow window to get the Tamiflu. If symptoms present people really should get tested for the flu,” he said.
Vester said people with the flu should be quarantined for about 5 days or at least until the fever has subsided for 24 hours without the use of medication. He said the flu virus is spread through droplets in the air from coughing or talking and patients are contagious for several days.
The state health department said so far this year there have been 19 flu-related deaths in Arkansas, 11 more than reported for the entire flu season last year.
“It is not too late to get your flu vaccine. The vaccine takes up to two weeks to begin working fully, so getting the vaccine sooner rather than later is recommended. The good news is that this year’s vaccine seems to be a good match for the flu strains that are circulating,” said Dr. Dirk Haselow, epidemiologist for Arkansas.