- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas is at the peak of a flu season that has already killed 25 people in the state, but could see the number of flu-related deaths double in the coming weeks, the state’s epidemiologist warned lawmakers on Friday.

Dr. Dirk Haselow told members of the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees that the state is investigating several additional deaths to see if they are related to the flu. Haselow said he believed the state is at the peak of the season, but that there’s still time for those who haven’t been vaccinated to get their shots.

“One thing to keep in mind is, typically when we see deaths from the flu we see the majority of them in the latter half of the flu season because it takes some time for the flu to cause damage to the lining of the lungs and then for people to develop a secondary bacterial infection,” Haselow said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would not be surprised if our death count is over 50, even though we’re at 25 now.”

State health officials have said the flu this year has hit many of those not normally considered the most vulnerable. The average age of those who have died in the state from the flu is 49, but ages ranged from two months to 77 years, Haselow said. None of them appeared to have been vaccinated against the flu, he said.


Last year’s flu season was one of Arkansas’ worst in more than 35 years, with 61 people in the state dying, and tens of thousands seeking care, he said. At this point, 15 percent of the state’s emergency room visits and 10 percent of doctor’s visits are related to the flu, Haselow said.

Haselow said the state is still encouraging people to get the flu shot.

“It’s not too late for anyone to get their flu shot,” he said. “It’s effective, it’s safe and it’s certainly worthwhile.”

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