Although the peak of flu season in Arkansas passed over a month ago, deaths from flu-related illnesses have continued to climb and surpassed 200 last week.
It’s almost twice as many as the highest number on record with the Arkansas Department of Health. There were 109 deaths from flu-related illness in the 2014-15 flu season.
Oklahoma surpassed the 200 flu-deaths mark in early March. The latest count is 238 flu-related illness deaths in Oklahoma.
For Arkansas it has been the deadliest flu season since the ADH began keeping track in 2000. There have been 198 deaths among adults and five pediatric deaths in the 2017-18 season, according to the latest ADH flu report.
Most of the flu-related deaths in Arkansas have been among people age 65 or older; 32 deaths were in the 45-64 age group; 12 deaths were in the 25-44 age group; four deaths were in the 5-18 age group; one death was in the 0-4 age group.
Since Oct. 1, more than 52,200 positive influenza tests have been reported to the Arkansas Department of Health online database by health care providers.
Last week, Sebastian County remained among the top counties in the state reporting flu-related illnesses. Others were Benton, Pulaski, White, Jefferson, Lonoke, Faulkner, Craighead and Independence counties. More than half of the state’s 75 counties reported flu cases the week ending March 17.
As seen by the Arkansas Department of Health flu report chart on influenza claims by Medicaid and BlueCross BlueShield, a sharp increase in flu claims began at the end of December, indicating a flu season that swung into high gear much sooner than average. The flu claims began to dive the final two weeks of the year, and then sharply increased with the return of children to school from Christmas break.
A peak of 9,000 claims in one week happened in early February. It's about four times higher than the 2012-17 average one-week peak of about 2,500 claims in one week. The average peak for claims is seen in early February, but last year it peaked in late February.
The average school absenteeism rate in Arkansas for the week ending March 17 was 7.5 percent. It was rose slightly from 6.17 the week prior.