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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The high rates of flu cases at two Arkansas elementary schools indicate that a strain not covered by this year's vaccine is circulating in the state, health officials say.
Dirk Haselow, an Arkansas Department of Health epidemiologist, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1sqie9X ) that both schools have a high rate of student and staff vaccinations, making it unusual to have a high rate of flu cases.
"The fact that we are seeing illness is suggestive of," the strain not being in the vaccine, Haselow said.
He declined to identify the schools or to say where in the state they are located.
He said only the federal Centers for Disease Control can test for the strain and that nasal swabs taken from students and staff at the schools will be sent there for testing.
The CDC said last week that 90 percent of flu viruses in the country are H3N2 and about 50 percent of those strains have drifted, or mutated, into a virus not included in this year's vaccine.
The most recent state Health Department report, for the week ending Dec. 6, showed clusters of the flu in more than 30 counties with a large portion reaching from just north of central Arkansas to the southern part of the state. Counties in northwest, northeast and southwest Arkansas also reported flu cases.
Jennifer Dillaha, the department's medical director for immunizations, said the state is seeing an uptick in reported flu cases.
"We are seeing almost twice as many cases this week than we had the week before," Dillaha said.
There have been 73 hospitalizations from the flu in the state since September, the report showed. Twenty-nine of the hospitalizations occurred between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6.
Haselow said that flu cases most likely will increase in Arkansas during the next few weeks and that people who have not been vaccinated should do so.
"It may still prevent severe illness or death," Haselow said. "It just may not prevent someone from missing a day of school or work."
The public is also encouraged to seek anti-viral medications from their doctors immediately after developing flu-like symptoms, the CDC has said. The medication is more successful if administered within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms that include: fever greater than 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, sore throat, chills, headache, fatigue and respiratory congestion.
Haselow said students and staff at the two schools with high levels of flu cases have been instructed to seek anti-viral medication if they develop symptoms.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com