The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scratched a Jan. 16 presentation about the public health response to a possible nuclear detonation or other radioactive incident to instead focus on a threat closer to home: widespread influenza

Earlier this month an 8 year-old boy from Pulaski County became the first reported pediatric flu death in the state. According to the governor's office, as of Tuesday there have been 92 adult deaths attributed to the flu, and two pediatric deaths.

School districts in counties across the state have been cancelling classes due to high numbers of students and school employees being ill.

Public school absenteeism statewide for that week was 8.85 percent. Van Buren County's rate was 8.05 percent.

Prior to the flu becoming widespread this month, another graph in the report shows public school absentee rates in Arkansas was 12.5 percent for the week ending Nov. 25, 2017. Van Buren County's rate was 14.45 percent at that time. While that number seems high, a comparison of absentee rates from previous years indicates it is a trend for there to be a spike of flu-related absenteeism around Thanksgiving.

More than 28,000 positive flu tests have been reported to the state by health care providers since Oct. 1, 2017, including outbreaks at 34 nursing homes. Last year the flu season in Arkansas peaked in February and March. For comparison, the March 11, 2017 weekly flu report showed that from Oct. 2, 2016, there were more than 12,400 positive flu tests. This year's flu season has already doubled that number.

The majority of flu this year has been identified by the CDC as Influenza Type A, H3N2. It has been widespread in some areas causing “spot shortages” of the antiviral drugs used to treat the flu, according to the CDC's website.

The Arkansas Department of Health's weekly flu report is compiled from reported cases of the illness, so while it does represent timing and location of the flu season, there are likely countless additional cases that are “toughed out” at home and go unreported. While particularly helpful for the medical community, the state's weekly flu report can help schools, government, businesses, and other policy makers stay informed about the flu.

Fore more information about this year's flu season, see Page 5B.