Reported cases of flu up across state

A graphic released by the Arkansas Department of Health that shows school absenteeism rates across the state.
A graphic released by the Arkansas Department of Health that shows school absenteeism rates across the state.

Arkansas continues to battle the flu, with the state's health department reporting the highest intensity level and geographic activity levels to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So far this flu season — which began near the end of September — 27 people have died from the flu, including one child. More than 21,000 Arkansans have visited an emergency room reporting influenza-like illnesses. There have been 10,700 positive flu tests this season, which is not a comprehensive total, with 1,400 positive tests last week. That's up from 1,100 the week before.

The CDC estimates 6,600 people have died from the flu or flu-related illnesses this season, according to the Arkansas Department of Health's weekly flu report, including 39 children.

Over the past decade, the deadliest flu season was the 2017-18 season, where more than 200 people died across the state. In 2015-16, 15 deaths were reported.

The majority positive cases of the flu reported to the state health department, which represent just a portion of positive flu diagnosis in the state, continues to be influenza B (about 53%) with influenza A at 47%. Influenza B is considered to be more dangerous for children, according to the state health department.

"So far, Influenza B has been a little more common, which is unusual," Meg Mirivel, director of communications for the Arkansas Department of Health, told the News-Times last week. "Typically, Influenza B, we don't really see it emerge until the back half of the season and Influenza B can be more serious for children, so that would be a concern."

Union County's school absenteeism rate stayed steady at 5.51%, lower than the surrounding Columbia (6.28%), Ouachita (6.3%) and Calhoun (9.55%) counties. Phillips County in east Arkansas is in the worst shape at 11.6%. Across the state, the absenteeism rate is 6.2%, and the health department noted two schools had briefly closed due to the flu.

Flu shots are still available at the Union County Health Unit in El Dorado. The unit is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Friday and until 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.

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