Deadly start to Arkansas flu season

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) -- A deadly start to the fluseason in Arkansas as the state health department reported five people havedied from the illness.

To make matter moreworrisome is health officials admit this is just the beginning stages of theflu season.

Arkansas' healthdepartment said it alone gave more than 250,000 flu shots in preparation forthis flu season, but with five people already dead this early in the seasonit's worried more could follow.

"We're seeingrelatively high numbers, and the pattern so far this year looks very much likelast year," said Dr. Gary Wheeler, Arkansas' Chief of Infectious Disease. "Lastyear we had a very heavy season with a lot of people with influenzaillnesses."

Wheeler added that it'shard to track an exact number of flu cases around the state, but at Rhea Drugin Little Rock, pharmacist Joe Searcy said Monday the flu-fightingprescriptions are going up.

"We've had an increasethis year. It seems like over the last few years by this time we've filled oneor two prescriptions," Searcy said. "We've had probably a dozen or so (thisyear), including small children."

To make matters worse, Searcyadded flu attacking drugs like Tamiflu can be hard to come by this time of theyear.

"It has been spotty.There have been times we've ordered and they've been out, but fortunately wehave been able to get it in within a few days," Searcy said.

It's of course never toolate for a reminder to help protect you from being the next victim of thisspreading illness.

"We're on theupswing of part of the influenza curve right now, so it is not too late to getimmunized," Dr. Wheeler said. "It takes about 10-14 days for your flu shot tobegin to work, but we've probably got two to three months of influenza left inour community."

Dr. Wheeler continuedthat the strain being used in the flu vaccine is the correct one to fight themost predominant flu patients are testing positive for right now.

"The most strain that'sout there, by a long shot are the strains that are in the influenza vaccine. Wealso know that the influenza at this point seems to be highly sensitive todrugs used to treat influenza," Wheeler said.