Northwestern Arkansas healthcare providers are bracing for flu season, which could be complicated by the covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the number of covid-19 patients hospitalized in northwest Arkansas fell below 50 for the first time in nearly four months.
Even though last year’s flu season was mild, this year’s flu season could be more severe as Covid-19 precautions decline and travel and gatherings increase, according to local doctors and doctors. ‘State.
Additional cases of the flu could put more strain on the healthcare system even though there are fewer cases of covid-19 than last winter, said Dr Jennifer Dillaha, medical director of the Department of Health of the United Kingdom. ‘Arkansas.
âWe strongly encourage people to get the flu shot,â she said. “It takes a few weeks for the immune system to develop antibodies, so go ahead and get your shot.”
The number of flu tests administered last year was relatively high, but the positivity rates were very low, said Dr Mark Thomas, Washington regional vice president and medical director of population health. For most years, 26% to 30% of flu tests are positive, but last year only 1% were positive, he said.
âThe flu was really non-existent,â he said.
Dillaha attributed the mild flu season to the precautions people were taking for covid-19. Fewer children were in school, more adults were working remotely and people wore masks and social distancing, she said.
âIt has worked very well to prevent the spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses,â she said.
Dr Justin Voris, a family medicine and obstetrics practitioner at Baptist Health in Fort Smith, said the decline in international travel may also have reduced the number of influenza cases last year.
Once people started to resume their daily activities and stopped wearing masks, the state saw flu cases increase, Dillaha said. From April to summer, the number of cases was much higher than usual, and other viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus were also circulating, she said.
The flu season officially started three weeks ago and will continue until April. Influenza activity so far has been minimal, according to the Department of Health. So far, no flu or epidemic deaths in nursing homes have been reported this year, the department’s weekly report says.
Dr Michael Callaway, family medicine practitioner for Mercy Fort Smith, said he hasn’t seen many cases of the flu this year, but sometimes the flu hits the area later in the season. Flu seasons tend to be cyclical and the last severe season was in 2018, he said.
Callaway said he is preparing for flu season by getting as many patients vaccinated as possible.
Voris said he had not seen any cases of the flu in his practice last year, nor this year. However, with more travel, gatherings and events this year, the flu could be making a comeback, he said.
It’s also possible that people will have less immunity this year because they weren’t exposed to the flu last year, Dillaha said.
High risk populations
The flu can be serious for anyone, but it is especially dangerous for people over 65 and very young children, as well as for people with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems and pregnant women, said Dillaha.
Women who catch the flu during pregnancy can have serious consequences and there can be adverse effects on the baby as well, she said. Getting the flu shot can protect the mother and pass antibodies to the baby that will last after birth, she said.
Anyone over 6 months of age should get a flu shot, Thomas said. Early evidence suggests vaccination rates are lower this year than in previous years, he said.
You cannot get the flu from the flu shot because the vaccine does not contain the complete virus, Dillaha said. The flu shot isn’t as good at preventing the flu as some vaccines against other diseases, but it does a very good job of keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them alive, he said. she declared.
The flu shot is remarkably safe, Thomas said. There are rare people who have severe allergic reactions to some of the vaccine components, but there are vaccines made from other components that they can use, Thomas said.
âWhen you ask your immune system to respond, you’re going to have symptoms,â he said. “A sore arm, muscle pain and fatigue are the main side effects.”
The flu or covid-19
The distinction between influenza and covid-19 will be important for healthcare providers and patients. Many symptoms of the flu and covid-19 are similar, such as fever, body aches, and cough, but covid-19 carries an exponentially higher risk of serious illness and death, doctors said.
Whenever these symptoms are present, patients should see their doctors and get tested, said Voris and Callaway.
Before the pandemic, healthy young people in their twenties with flu symptoms did not need to go to a doctor and expose other patients, to be diagnosed and get treatment that could reduce their symptoms. just a few days, Thomas said.
Now patients need to be tested and diagnosed as soon as possible because treatments are available for the flu and covid-19, he said. Early treatment works much better than late treatment, Thomas said.
The way the healthcare system deals with respiratory illnesses needs to improve this year to determine whether or not someone has covid-19, the flu or something else, Thomas said. Due to the pandemic, doctors’ waiting rooms are now managed in a different way, making it much less likely for patients to spread disease, he said.
The flu prevention and covid-19 prevention methods are similar, the doctors said. Both diseases are spread by respiratory droplets, but the covid-19 virus appears to be more contagious, Voris said.
Other countries have been used to wearing masks during flu season and it wouldn’t hurt Arkansas residents to do the same, Dillaha said. Staying home when sick is another important strategy to prevent the spread of the virus, she said.
âGetting the covid vaccine is the first thing, getting the flu shot is the second thing,â Thomas said. “If you can get these things, you really help everyone. You keep these doctors’ offices from being overwhelmed” with having to figure out whether a disease is flu or covid, he said.
Wearing a mask, washing your hands and social distancing also prevent the two diseases, he said.
As of Thursday, 43 area patients were hospitalized for covid-19, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council. It was the first week since early July, local hospitalizations related to covid-19 were below 50.
A total of 39 patients were on ventilators and 97 were in intensive care unit beds in northwest Arkansas on Thursday, the council’s website said. Patients include people with covid-19 and other medical needs.
Hospitalizations have also declined in the river valley. Twenty-five covid-19 patients were hospitalized at Baptist Health-Fort Smith on Friday, including 13 in covid intensive care units and eight on ventilators, according to spokesperson Alicia Agent. At Baptist Health-Van Buren, there was one patient who was not on a ventilator, she said. As of Friday, 26 covid-19 patients were hospitalized at Fort Smith hospital, she said.
Mercy Fort Smith had 24 covid-19 patients on Friday, including 11 in intensive care, spokeswoman Mardi Taylor said – down slightly from 26 hospitalizations and nine intensive care patients last Friday.
Statewide, hospitalizations related to covid-19 fell from 414 last week to 348 this Friday, according to Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health. A total of 161 covid-19 patients were in intensive care and 96 patients were on ventilators.
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Baptist Health Flu Vaccination Events
Baptist Health will provide free flu shots for three days in November. The blows will be given to persons 12 years of age and over in the following places:
â¢ Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., at Baptist Health-Fort Smith in the Northwest employee parking lot on Towson Avenue
â¢ Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., at Baptist Health-Van Buren in the main parking lot
â¢ November 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Baptist Health-Fort Smith in the Northwest Employee Parking Lot on Towson Avenue
People on Medicare Part B must provide proof of coverage. For more information, contact Baptist Health at 1-888-BAPTIST.
Mercy Fort Smith flu shots
â¢ Mercy Fort Smith offers flu shots while driving from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week for those over 18 years of age at Mercy Convenient Care, 3505 S. 79th St. Those who receive a vaccine must park in a designated location, have their insurance information ready and call 479-709-8686. Masking is mandatory.
â¢ Flu shots are also available by appointment at Mercy Primary Care Centers in Fort Smith as well as in Booneville, Ozark, Paris and Waldron.
Mercy Northwest Arkansas flu shots
â¢ Mercy Clinic Family Medicine – Lowell offers walk-in or by appointment flu shots between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
â¢ Mercy Clinic Primary Care on Moberly Lane in Bentonville offers driving flu shots.
â¢ For established Mercy patients, influenza vaccines are available by appointment only at all primary care and family medicine centers.
Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette