LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The state Health Department says three cases of influenza have been confirmed in Arkansas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu cases have been confirmed in most states, though the illness is not at epidemic levels.
In Arkansas, one case was in an area that includes most of Pulaski County south of the Arkansas River. Two cases occurred in an area west of Hot Springs to the Oklahoma border. The Health Department cited privacy laws as the reason for not being more specific. A hospital in Conway says it has confirmed cases there, but are not part of the state count.
The Health Department still has about 4,000 flu vaccinations on hand, and private physicians also have the vaccine in stock. Influenza is a respiratory illness that brings fever, severe headache, body aches, cough and sometimes stomach upset. It is of particular risk to the very young and older people, though people with certain health conditions are also more vulnerable.
If caught in the first 48 hours of symptoms, antiviral drugs can reduce symptoms and shorten duration the patient is sick.
Dr. Mike Fahr, an emergency room physician at Conway Regional Medical Center, said flu cases began to surface a week or two ago.
"It's a viral illness. It starts kind of like a cold, but the symptoms are magnified many times. We get young, healthy people coming in, thinking they're going to die. They can't believe it when you tell them it's the flu. People will tell you, 'I've had the flu before,' but they haven't. They've had a bad cold. The flu is a lot worse."
Fahr said antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza can decrease the length and severity of the flu if given within the first 48 hours.
"If they come into the ER after it peaks, we just treat it symptomatically," he said. "We give them some medicines that make them feel better while they weather the storm."
The flu is spread through sneezing, coughing or by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching the nose or mouth. Covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing can help prevent the spread, but getting a flu shot is the best protection.
Each year, there are 25 million to 50 million flu cases in the U.S., with 36,000 deaths associated with the virus.
The vaccine, which is also available as a nasal spray, is produced by using dead virus, so a flu shot cannot cause the illness.
Some health conditions prevent people from being able to get the vaccine. In general, the Health Department recommends that people over six months of age get the vaccine. The protection is most needed by people 50 and older; children ages six months through 18 years; adults and children with chronic lung or heart disorders, including heart disease and asthma; and pregnant women.
People who should not receive the shot include those with a severe allergy to eggs, which is used to make the vaccine, and people with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome during the six weeks after receiving a previous influenza vaccine.
Information from: Log Cabin Democrat, http://www.thecabin.net
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