More flu in region

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 9, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 7, 2012 at 9:28 a.m.
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Over the past two weeks, more Arkansans are coming down with the flu, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

The heavy flu season usually peaks in January or later, so the increase in doctor visits and trips to emergency rooms for influenza-like illnesses have health officials concerned, according to an announcement issued by Janice Ray, public health educator for the state health department in Benton.

Reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said influenza has already reached critical levels in many of the states surrounding Arkansas.

“The lab results we are seeing show the disease is spread across the state,” said Ed Barham, spokesman for the health department. “Flu season is here in Arkansas.”

Doctors at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton said they have not seen a significant number of flu patients admitted to the hospital or visiting the emergency department, according to a hospital spokesman.

There is more good news along with the bad, said Dr. Gary Wheeler, ADH branch chief of infectious diseases.

“If you get the flu vaccine, you are likely to be protected from the strains that are circulating,” he said. “The time to get a flu shot is now, before you get sick.”

Barham said state lab tests have found that most flu cases are for the B-strain of influenza. The vaccine that has been distributed this year is for that strain.

“That is especially good, since the B-Strain is the one with the more serious consequences,” he said. “We especially urge pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses to get a flu shot.”

The health department has wrapped up its mass-flu-vaccination efforts for the year. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 16, department employees administered more than 61,000 doses of vaccine in 107 clinics around the state, including a Saline County clinic held Oct. 26 at the Holland Chapel Baptist Church in Benton, where more than 100 shots were given.

Barham said that unlike in some past flu seasons, there is plenty of vaccine available at physicians’ offices, hospitals, some places of employment and pharmacies in the region.

“There are so many places where you can find the vaccine; everyone should try and get it,” he said. “Probably the quickest and easiest way is to get it at your local pharmacy.”

So far, more than 235,550 doses of flu vaccine have been administered in the state, according to the health department.

Meanwhile, if you get the flu, the CDC and Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs advise cold and flu patients that antibiotics don’t work for a cold or the flu.

Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses, and flu, colds and sore throats are caused by viruses. Antibiotics don’t touch viruses — never have and never will, said Trish Gould, supervisor for infection control at Mercy Hospital.

“When you take antibiotics, it puts you at a high risk for an infection called C. diff (Clostridium difficile). In the past decade, C. diff infections have tripled,” Gould said. “Don’t just ask a physician to prescribe an antibiotic, because you may not actually need one.”

Overuse of antibiotics gives a boost to drug-resistant bacteria, but there is a perception that antibiotics cure everything.

If you get the flu, Mercy Hospital suggests that children and adults with viral infections recover when the illness has run its course. Colds caused by viruses may last for two weeks or longer.

The following measures can help a person with a cold or the flu feel better:

• Increase fluid intake.

• Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.

• Soothe the throat with ice chips, sore-throat spray or lozenges (for older children and adults).

• Viral infections may sometimes lead to bacterial infections. Patients need to keep their doctors informed if an illness gets worse or lasts a long time.

Better to get the flu shot first, Barham said.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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