State Health Department officials are urging Arkansans between the ages of 25 and 50 to get a flu vaccination, calling this influenza season "unusual."
Fifteen deaths have been caused by the influenza virus, seven of which have happened in adults between the ages of 25 and 50, state epidemiologist Dirk Haselow said in a news conference Monday afternoon.
"We're having high numbers of [influenza] cases," he said. "But what's different is that it appears to be targeting younger age groups."
Last week, the total number of reported flu cases was tallied at about 3,800; however, as of Monday that figure has increased by 1,500, bringing the current reported flu-case count to 5,300. At the news conference, Haselow also revealed a paper stack of flu cases that have not been entered yet into the department's system.
"We're still on the upswing in the season," he said. "We have not yet hit the peak."
One of the 15 Arkansans who died had already been vaccinated, he said.
Haselow said only 10 percent of the 61 deaths reported to have been caused by the flu virus last year occurred in adults between 25 and 50 years old.
This year, seven of the 15 deaths attributed to the flu virus occurred in Arkansans in that same age group, which Haselow said is "very unusual." He added that the average age of Arkansans to have died from the flu virus last year was 69. This year, it's 42.
Those who have died from the flu virus this year had no underlying medical conditions, he said.
Only about 30 percent of Arkansans between the age of 25 and 50 have been vaccinated, which means about 650,000 people in that age group have not received the vaccine, he added.
Haselow said those who cannot afford vaccinations may receive free flu shots at the Arkansas Department of Health.
"It's not too late to get your shots," Haselow said. "If not for you, please get your shot for your loved ones."