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Three More Reported Flu Deaths In Arkansas Raising Total To 125

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As of Tuesday afternoon, the number of flu-related deaths in Arkansas is now up to 125 according to the state Department of Health. It's the worst flu season for the state in two decades.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gary Wheeler, estimates there another four to six weeks left of epidemic flu levels. 

"At this point, we're not aware of dramatic changes in the genetic structure of the flu virus," he explained . "One would not have predicted under these condition that we'd have such a bad season, but we're having a very bad one. Among those 125 deaths, three are pediatric. This reflects what's going on in the nation and it's obviously a very very severe season and it's lasting a long time. We don't see any ebb in the pattern of infections we're seeing at this point. The numbers continue to go up."

According to Wheeler, this year's vaccine is proving to be less effective against the dominant strain H3N2, which causes more severe illness than other types.

"That is a strain that is covered in the influenza vaccine and there's still significant benefit to get a vaccine if you have not had one," says Wheeler. 

The Department of Health doesn't have an estimate of the number of flu shots given this year.

"We have given about the same number of flu shots this year as last year," says Wheeler. "We don't have real good numbers on the number of people who have gotten shots through pharmacies or private physicians at this point."

As the season continues and is lasting so long Dr. Wheeler hopes more people will go and get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people age 6 months and older to get a flu shot every year.

Read the most recent weekly flu report from the Arkansas Department of Health here.

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