Six more flu deaths were reported to the state Department of Health in the past week as at least five school districts canceled classes for one or more days because of the high level of illness among students and teachers.
The latest deaths brought the toll from the current flu season to 33.
After a drop at the beginning of the year, the percentage of patients in doctors' offices and hospital emergency rooms who have flu-like symptoms has been increasing, according to a Health Department report.
The Des Arc, Fordyce, Jackson County, Johnson County Westside and Pangburn school districts each announced this week that classes would be canceled for part of the week because of the large number of cases among employees and students.
The Jackson County School District canceled classes last Friday for the same reason.
School absence rates were highest, around 10% to 11%, in Lincoln, Phillips, St. Francis, Jackson and Searcy counties, according to the report.
The report said that Pulaski County's school absence rate was about 8.5%. The average statewide was listed at 7.5%, up from 6.2% the previous week.
In Garland County, school absenteeism in the past week was 7.27%.
School officials in that county asked parents to keep children with flu symptoms home for at least 24 hours after those children no longer have fevers. Officials also requested that parents report any student illnesses to the school so the severity of the outbreak can be tracked.
A post on the Fountain Lake School District's Facebook page from its school nurse advised parents to wash students' coats and backpacks and wipe down cellphones with disinfectant wipes.
The latest deaths in Arkansas were of three people age 65 or older and three people age 45-64.
Of the others who have died in the state during the current flu season, one was a child age 5-18, four were age 25-44, six were age 45-64 and 16 were 65 or older.
The flu season generally runs from October through May.
The number of deaths this season is twice as many as the 17 that had been reported at this point in the previous season. By the end of that season last spring, a 120 people had died.
During the week that ended Saturday, flu was widespread in Arkansas, according to the Health Department. Nearly all states nationwide are reporting the same.
The department's weekly flu report noted that 1,900 positive tests for flu had been reported during the week.
Department spokesman Meg Mirivel said it is not too late to get a flu shot.
"The sooner, the better though, because it does take two weeks to kick in," Mirivel said. "We anticipate significant flu activity for weeks to come, so it's definitely not too late."
Information for this article was contributed by Cassidy Kendall of The Sentinel-Record.
Metro on 01/30/2020