More flu cases have been reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year than any other recent year, said Darla York, a pharmacist at Salem Drug Company. York said the number of flu cases reported were high in 1999 but 2003's cases are surpassing that number.
As the demand has increased the cost of the flu shot has jumped from $15 to $40, said York. With the flu epidemic the public is hard-pressed to find a clinic or health unit which has available vaccines. York said her company isn't making any profits on the flu shot because her cost is $40. She said two months ago the vaccine was not popular but now the demand is high with sick children and dried up vaccine supplies. The flu is taking its toll on school-age children, according to school officials in Fulton and Izard counties.
The flu normally lasts between seven and 14 days, York said. Symptoms include fever, aching, chills and headache. She said chickens and other small animals harbor the virus and most viruses originate in Taiwan and China. The virus is spread through travelers, she said. York said her own kids have been absent from school with a cold and vomiting.
Fulton County Health Unit administered 200 doses of vaccine Dec. 9, said Wanda Koelling, administrator and Hometown Health leader. She estimated the county gave 650 immunizations for the flu vaccine and ran out Dec. 9. Koelling said before all the media hype she was administering about two per day.
Izard County Health Unit ran out of the vaccine last week after giving approximately 700 immunizations, said administrator Treva Engelhardt. The health department doesn't expect to get any more doses, she said.
With news of flu-related deaths in the national headlines, methods designed to prevent contracting the condition are in demand, said Ann Marie Newberry, advertising/marketing manager at Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains, Mo. Officials with Salem 1st Care, an affiliate of Ozarks Medical Center, report no more than 20 cases of actual flu have been treated at the Salem clinic, but they stress that precautionary measures are still a good idea, Newberry said.
According to Naomi Rush, APN, at Ozarks Medical Center, the most important action the public can take to avoid any respiratory illnesses is to wash their hands frequently. "In addition, it is important to get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids," she said.
Rush said the public needs to avoid crowds. But if a person is diagnosed with the flu it is important to limit the exposure to elderly and young children who are more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, she said.
Schools in Fulton and Izard both have reported a high number of absentee students.
"We're not showing an outstanding number of absentees with flu-like symptoms," said Elaine Combs, district treasurer at Salem High School. She said Dec. 11 around 30 elementary students were absent. She said more high school students were absent by the end of the week than the first of the week.
Approximately 30 students were absent from Viola Elementary School with flu-like symptoms Dec. 11, said Carol Brewer, school secretary. She said 70 high school students were absent from Dec. 8 to 11. Brewer said parents have been calling the school to inquire where students can attain the vaccine.
Mammoth Spring School nurse Robin Vanginhoven said around 56 students have been absent from school each day from Dec. 8 through Dec. 11.
Izard County Consolidated Elementary School secretary Cindia Yancey said about 22 students were absent from school Dec. 11. She estimated about one-half of those absences were due to the flu. Twelve students were absent from ICC High School, said Cathy Selph, high school secretary. She said, "That number is normal. We're doing great."
Melbourne Elementary School absentees ranged between 25 to 30 each day last week, "We've been running that number for three weeks," said Danny Brightwell, elementary principal. He said students have complained of stomach aches, vomiting, strep throat and diarrhea. Melbourne High School has been averaging around 12 students absent per day since last week. Nineteen students were absent Dec. 11, said Melbourne High School secretary Nickole Shinn.
Calico Rock High School Principal Lyn Graves said 22 students were absent Dec. 11. Graves said he could not confirm if students were out because of the flu or other health reasons. Close to 17 elementary students were absent each day last week, said Sherry Russell, elementary school secretary.
Mount Pleasant Elementary had 12 absent Dec. 11 from the elementary school and eight absent from the high school, said Willie Bray, high school principal's secretary.
From the Arkansas Department of Health Reporting by physicians, hospitals and state surveillance indicates that influenza (flu) is causing higher than normal illness and nine probable deaths in Arkansas in high risk groups and illness and death nationally. Flu season usually begins in late December or early January, but Dr. Sandra Snow, medical director for Communicable Disease and Immunizations, reported widespread influenza-like illness in 68 of the state's 75 counties. Dr. Snow said, "The best prevention for not getting the flu is the flu shot. However, the health department's vaccine supply -- as well as the national vaccine supply -- is practically exhausted. We encourage those Arkansans who have not been immunized, especially young children and the elderly, to check with their local health units, private physicians, pharmacists, and other health care providers for vaccine availability."
Most individuals will develop immunity from flu two weeks after receiving a shot. In spite of what some people believe, the flu shot will not give someone the flu, Snow said.
In a typical year, roughly 36,000 Americans die from complications of the flu. The risk of complications and death is higher among: persons aged 50 and above; residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities that house people with chronic medical conditions; adults and children who have chronic disorders of pulmonary; or adults and children who required regular medical follow-up or hospitalization during the preceding year because of chronic metabolic diseases including diabetes, renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies and immunodeficiency caused by medications or HIV/AIDS; children and teen-agers (6 months to 18 years) who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and, therefore, may be at risk for developing Reye Syndrome after influenza infection; women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season; and children 6 to 23 months of age and their close contacts.
Influenza vaccine is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months.
Influenza virus passes from an infected person to a healthy person via nasal secretions or droplets produced through coughing or sneezing. It can cause fever, chills, headache, cough, sore throat and muscle aches. Antiviral drugs are available that can ease the symptoms of the flu.
For more information on influenza, click on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site at www.cdc.gov.