Although temperatures have swung wildly this January, one thing has remained consistent in Arkansas: the lingering flu season. While we always emphasize the importance of vaccinating children and the elderly, this year, an unusually high number of young and middle-aged adults are falling ill.
The most frequent flu strain contracted this year, H1N1, disproportionately affects young people and pregnant women. To make matters worse, less than a third of the people in this age group have been vaccinated. That means 650,000 Arkansans are at an increased risk of contracting, and spreading, this terrible virus.
Getting the flu vaccine can mean the difference between a mild to moderate illness and severe symptoms, pneumonia, or even death. Of the 25 confirmed flu deaths in Arkansas thus far this season, 17 victims were between the ages of 25 and 64. With nearly two months left before this year's outbreak subsides, it's extremely important that Arkansans, especially young adults, continue to get vaccinated.
Hundreds of Arkansans have been hospitalized in the past few months because of the flu. In fact, there were an alarming 777 flu-related hospital admissions in the State for the week of January 12th alone. Flu symptoms include: fever over 100 degrees, headache, extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, dry cough and runny or stuffy nose. When people with those symptoms experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, sudden dizziness, or pain or pressure in the chest, they should seek medical care immediately. While it often doesn't get the media attention of more rare and exotic diseases that may emerge, the flu remains one of the biggest dangers to the American population each year. And it is also one of the most preventable.
Every fall, I encourage Arkansans to get the flu shot or the nasal mist to prevent the flu or alleviate the worst symptoms. It's the best way to avoid this serious illness, and it also helps prevent its spread. However, even now, months later, there is still time to protect yourself. Arkansas still has plenty of the vaccine left. It is available at pharmacies, doctors' offices, and local health units statewide. And if you do not have insurance, or if your insurance company doesn't cover flu shots, the vaccine still will be provided to you at no charge.
By getting the flu shot, you are not only taking responsibility for your own health - you are also doing your part to improve public health in our State. The flu virus can spread so easily, and by not getting a vaccination, you put yourself and others at risk. The result can be costly hospital stays and loss of work that could have been prevented. The characteristics of this year's flu strain, combined with a long flu season, make getting the vaccination even more important. If you haven't protected yourself against the flu yet, do it today.