The Arkansas Department of Health says influenza cases are widespread in Arkansas, and cases are expected to increase in the coming weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows widespread geographical cases in the surrounding states of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
High levels of flu activity are being reported in south central and southeastern states, and other parts of the country are picking up speed.
In the last week, visits to Arkansas emergency departments for influenza-like illness have increased to more than 13 percent of all visits.
Outpatient visits for flu-like illness have also increased, according to the health department.
Two deaths last week bring the number of deaths due to influenza to seven in the state.
The highest rate reported by age groups are among young and middle-aged adults.
Though the flu is widespread and cases are increasing, the illness has not reached the epidemic threshold, according to the CDC.
Kerry Krell, ADH public information officer, says numbers are likely higher than what is being reported.
The peak of flu season is typically in January and February, according to the CDC.
“We expect cases to go into February or maybe even March or April,” said Krell. “But the flu season is unpredictable.”
Krell said it is fortunate that the strain of flu that is prevalent this season, H1N1, is one of the strains represented in the vaccine that is currently available.
Krell said it is not too late to be vaccinated.
People with chronic diseases and conditions that weaken their immune systems should be vaccinated, Krell said, as well as those who come into contact with vulnerable populations.
Pregnant women should also get the vaccine, according to Krell, because babies cannot receive the vaccine until six months of age.
“When the mother gets a flue shot she passes immunity to her unborn baby,” Krell said.
Flu shots are available at most pharmacies.
Symptoms of the flu include 100-degree or higher fever, cough and sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache and body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in children.
Differentiating between the flu and a common cold is difficult, but flu symptoms are more intense and worse than with the common cold, according to the CDC.
(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)