Arkansas Health Officials Brace For Flu Season

Sep 30, 2019

Arkansas Department of Health nurse Seavia Dixon applies a bandage to Medical Director for Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha's arm after giving her an influenza vaccine.
Credit Daniel Breen / KUAR News

With the 2019- 2020 flu season about to begin, state public health officials are urging Arkansans to get vaccinated. The Arkansas Department of Health briefed reporters Monday on the importance of being vaccinated in time for the flu season's start in October.

Dr. Nate Smith, the department's director, said people getting a vaccination is important despite the difficulty in accurately tracking the number of flu cases in the state.

"Many of the infections either have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Many that do have symptoms, people don't go to the doctor for care and so we have no way of reporting those," Smith said. "Those who do go, more and more of them are being diagnosed, but sometimes they're not diagnosed or diagnosed as something else." 

The department’s Medical Director for Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha said the most commonly used vaccine protects against two strains each of the Influenza A and Influenza B viruses.

"The Influenza A viruses that circulated this past year changed, and so the viruses that were included in the vaccine were also changed to be a better match for the circulating viruses that are anticipated for this year," Dillaha said.

The department will begin offering flu vaccines at its local health units, as well as at mass clinics and in  schools. People who are unable to pay for a vaccine won't be turned away at any of the department’s vaccine clinics, officials said.

Dillaha also stressed that the idea that the flu vaccine can cause the flu directly is untrue.

"One of the most common things that I hear is, 'the flu shot can give you the flu,' which is why I've tried to emphasize that today. It absolutely cannot give someone the flu. But it is still possible to get the shot and get the flu later," Dillaha said.

Smith said past versions of the vaccine carry a roughly 50 percent effectiveness rate of fully preventing the flu. 113 people died of flu-related causes in Arkansas last season, including two children.