First Arkansas flu case reported; patient is northeastern teen

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Arkansas Public Health Lab has confirmed the first case of seasonal flu of this year.

The patient is a teenager and a resident of the northeast part of the state.

Dr. James Phillips, MD, Infectious Disease branch chief at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), said that the case comes early in the season.

"However, it is not uncommon to have a few early cases before the first real surge of flu in Arkansas. The typical flu season in Arkansas happens between early December and late March in most years."

"We want to take this opportunity to urge those in the higher risk groups to go ahead and get vaccinated," Phillips said. "It's also important to remind families that good hygiene can help prevent the spread of the flu. You can protect yourself and those around you with proper hand washing and by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze."

People at high risk for

flu complications:

* Children younger than five, but especially children younger than two years old

* Pregnant women

* Those over 65 years of age

* People who have:

* Asthma

* Cancer

* Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)

* Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis) Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)

* Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease)

* Kidney disorders

* Liver disorders

* Neurological and neuro-developmental conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability [mental retardation], moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injuries)

* Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)

* Neuromuscular disorders (such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis)

* Weakened immune systems due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, cancer or those on chronic steroids)

* People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.

School flu clinics started around the state this week and are scheduled through December. Check with your school district to find out when the school clinics in your area are planned.

Beginning the last week in October and the first week of November, the ADH will provide seasonal flu vaccine at mass flu clinics in every county. A mass flu clinic is a day-long event during which the community comes together to immunize as many people as possible. ADH staff, health professionals and volunteers work as a team to provide vaccine. Some clinics offer "drive-throughs" -- you don't even leave your car.

Dr. Paul Halverson, state health officer and ADH director, said, "Flu can be a serious illness, and we lose roughly 23,600 Americans to complications from flu each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages everyone six months and older to get the vaccine.

Last year, the ADH vaccinated 387,000 Arkansans in school and mass flu clinics. Even with this incredible effort, we lost 11 Arkansans to complications from flu. Preventing the flu is up to you. Please get your vaccine and encourage your family members to do so, too."

If you have insurance, the ADH will ask your insurance company to pay for the cost of giving the vaccine.

If you have insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or ARKids First, bring your cards with you so that we can file with your insurance.

If you do not have insurance or your insurance company does not pay, the vaccine will be provided at no charge to you.

Flu is a sickness that infects the nose, throat and lungs and is caused by the influenza virus.

If you're young and healthy, the flu vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing illness. When more people in the general population get vaccinated, better protection is provided for everyone, including those most at risk.

Children eight years and younger who have never received seasonal flu vaccine before will need two doses for full protection.

Parents will need to contact a local ADH health unit or health care provider, see if vaccine is available and take their children in for a second dose four weeks after the first vaccination.

Over the last 50 years, flu vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective. All flu vaccines are made the same way. An average of 100 million doses of influenza vaccine is used in the United States each year, and flu vaccines have an excellent safety record.

Reactions to flu vaccines might include a mild soreness and redness near the site of the shot and perhaps a little fever or slight headache.

The nasal spray vaccine's side effects may include runny nose, headache and wheezing, but the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

There are very few medical reasons to avoid the flu vaccine.

They include life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis to a previous dose of the flu vaccine or to eggs, or a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome. Persons with a non-life threatening egg allergy may be vaccinated but need to see a doctor specializing in allergies.

Influenza symptoms include fever over 100 degrees, headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose and occasionally stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.

The influenza virus is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching the nose or mouth.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year.

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