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Record Flu Deaths This Year A Mystery To Arkansas's Public Health Officials

David Goldman

Arkansas has seen a record number of flu deaths this year, 215, and the severity of the virus has taken Arkansans by surprise.

State chief epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow says the health department doesn’t really know why there were more deaths this year, but one reason could be that Influenza B dominated this year, and it is more deadly that Influenza A.

“One thing about this last season that is unusual is that we actually had at least two peaks. The first peak was attributable to H3 flu and the second peak was from Influenza B,” he said.

Influenza B can be deadly for anyone, whereas Influenza A hits vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly hardest. Of the deaths this year, just five were children.

"We actually had at least two peaks. The first peak was attributable to H3 Flu and the second peak was from influenza," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow

According to Haselow, changes in the prevalence of certain flu strains also present greater health threats.
“Sometimes when a season occurs and there hasn’t been a strain like it for many years, that makes it a bad season, but if the season before it we had a similar virus circulating then it tends to be milder.”

He says only about half of all Americans get the flu vaccine despite its efficacy at slowing or stopping the disease and its spread.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

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