Ark. health officials suggest getting flu shot early, cases already being reported

Flu shot clinics are beginning to pop up as cases of influenza are being reported much earlier this year in Arkansas. (Photo: KATV)

It's suggested that everybody get a flu shot, but this year health officials are suggesting that Arkansans get one earlier. It's all because the flu season appears to be getting a head start in 2017.

"The flu season has been notoriously hard to predict," said Dr. Dirk Haselow, Arkansas state epidemiologist. "For that reason we ask people to get vaccinated now."

While the typical flu season runs from December to March, Haselow said the Arkansas Department of Health is already receiving reports of cases of influenza.

"We've seen a couple of small outbreaks - one in northwest Arkansas, one in central Arkansas - and clinicians around the state are seeing cases now," said Haselow.

The influenza vaccine typically takes about two weeks to start working, which is why businesses and schools are starting to offer flu shots to their employees and students. Haselow said ADH has already begun holding their mass-immunization clinics across the state.

According to Haselow, this year's flu strains appear to be relatively mild compared to years past and luckily this year's flu shot should be more effective at preventing influenza than past ones.

"We are glad to report that what we are seeing appears to be strains that are included within the vaccine," said Haselow. "It appears to be a good match with what's circulating right now."

One flu preventative that you won't see this year is the flu mist - the vaccine in nasal spray form that was once popular particularly amongst children. Haselow said recent studies have shown that the flu mist has proven to be ineffective.

Despite the minor pain and occasional temporary flu-like symptoms that some people may experience after receiving the flu shot, Haselow said the shot is the only method available now and, "is so much better than the wild-type illness of the flu itself."

In 2016, 65 Arkansans died as a direct result of the flu and hundreds more were hospitalized because of it, according to Haselow. While the flu shot isn't perfect, Haselow said studies show the flu shot is proven to help drive down the number of deaths and hospitalizations connected to the flu, as well as minimize the duration of the flu in those who end up getting it.

To find an Arkansas Department of Health mass-flu immunization clinic happening near you - click here.

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