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The death toll in Arkansas from the current flu season surpassed 200 as six additional deaths were reported in the past week to the state Department of Health.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases continued to decline, with the department downgrading the level of activity from "moderate" to "minimal."

"We're just thrilled that the flu season seems to be winding down," Jennifer Dillaha, medical director for the Health Department's immunization program, said. "It's been a very difficult year for a lot of people -- families and health care providers."

Because of delays in collecting information, it's likely the number of reported deaths, which stood at 203 as of Tuesday, will continue rising even as new flu cases continue to become less common, she said.

The death toll last month surpassed the 110 people who died in the 2014-15 season, which had been the state's deadliest since the Health Department began tracking flu deaths in 2000.

The most recent deaths included five people who were 65 or older and one person age 45-64.

The other deaths this flu season include those of five children or teenagers under age 19; 12 people age 25-44; 31 people age 45-64; and 149 people age 65 or older.

During the week that ended March 10, Arkansas was among 13 states that reported "moderate" flu activity, an indicator based on the number patients who visit the doctor with a high fever and coughs or sore throats, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, Arkansas' status was reduced to "minimal," as the percentage of patients at doctor's offices who had flu-like symptoms fell from 2.9 percent to 1.6 percent.

Over the same period, the percentage of emergency room visits by patients with flu symptoms fell from 2.6 percent to 1.9 percent.

The declining number of cases prompted White River Medical Center in Batesville to discontinue Sunday hours at its children's clinic near the hospital earlier this month, Michele Wood, a hospital spokesman, said.

But the hospital plans to continue keeping another clinic open on weekends for at least a few more months, she said.

While not as many patients are coming in with the flu, the clinic has continued to treat patients with strep throat and other ailments, she said.

Of the people who have died from the flu this season, at least 42 had been vaccinated against the flu and 84 had not, Health Department spokesman Meg Mirivel said. Whether any of the others who died had been vaccinated hadn't been determined, she said.

Dillaha said the shot is still available at no charge to patients from the Health Department's county offices.

Those who haven't gotten the shot may still want to get one, she said, especially if they live in areas where the flu is still circulating or if they are planning to visit the Southern Hemisphere, where the flu season typically starts in April.

Even in the United States, it's possible to get the flu during the summer. Immunity from the flu shot lasts for about a year, she said.

"It can make a big difference for someone's vacation being ruined or just being so sick you end up having to go to the hospital," she said.

Metro on 03/21/2018

Print Headline: Six flu deaths drive season's toll above 200

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