Many Jefferson County residents are battling the flu this season, health care professionals say.
Arkansas Department of Health spokesperson Katie White said there have been 1,019 confirmed cases of the flu in Jefferson County since Oct. 1, 2017. The department said three dozen people have died in Arkansas from the flu since October.
MedExpress centers in Arkansas are seeing an increase in patients with cold and flu symptoms as flu season continues. In fact, Arkansas centers are locally experiencing some of the highest instances of influenza-like illness (ILI) across MedExpress’ 18 operating states, Ellen Dietrick of the MedExpress Administrative Offices said.
MedExpress is seeing more instances of flu throughout Arkansas than it has the past seasons during the same time period, she said. MedExpress centers in Arkansas have seen a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in patients with ILI during the past two weeks, Dietrick said. MedExpress Urgent Care has an office in Pine Bluff and its medical professionals are treating many patients who have the flu. Dietrick recommends people get an annual flu vaccine to protect themselves and their family members.
“It’s important for you and your friends, family and neighbors because the more people who protect against flu, the less flu in general – which is good for everyone,” Dietrick said via email. “Flu vaccination can also reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
Dietrick said people can also stay healthy this winter by getting plenty of sleep, eating right, disinfecting shared surfaces and washing hands often. MedExpress providers recommend taking preventative actions every day and making them part of one’s routine.
“Staying away from people who are sick and frequently wiping down common-area surfaces, like countertops, sinks, remotes, and light switches; this can help slow the spread of germs,” Dietrick said via email. “Since droplets from coughs and sneezes can travel and live on surfaces for up to 48 hours, it’s also important to remember proper cough etiquette. Blow your nose and cough into a tissue – and if a tissue isn’t available, cough and sneeze into your upper arm or sleeve. Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, and blowing your nose, and turn away from people when you’re coughing or sneezing.”
Dietrick said the predominant strain for this year’s flu season – H3N2 – can make for a particularly severe flu season and can be especially hard on the elderly and those with underlying illnesses. She recommended all people get the flu vaccination, especially people older than 50, and those suffering from chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes.
People who believe they have contracted the flu should visit a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
“The sooner you get tested for the flu, the better, because there are antiviral medications that can be prescribed that can help you get back on your feet – faster,” Dietrick said. “But it’s important to note that these medications are most effective when they’re taken within 48 hours, so again, get to a doctor as soon as you start experiencing symptoms.”
Dietrick said there are also a few things people can do to help relieve flu symptoms. For body aches, try taking a warm bath or shower, which will help relax tense and tight muscles.
“And, as a bonus, the steam from the warm water can help clear clogged nasal passageways,” Dietrick said. “For even more relief, place a warm, damp wash cloth on your forehead to soothe a headache. For a sore throat, sip warm tea or soup – chicken noodle soup not only feels good on a raw, scratchy throat, but can help relieve congestion, too.”
“Symptoms of the flu will come on quickly – more quickly than, say, symptoms of a cold, which begin slowly over the period of a few days,” Dietrick said. “Keep an eye out for fever, severe body aches, exhaustion, cough and sore throat. In addition to these common flu symptoms, some people (typically children) with the flu may also experience gastrointestinal symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea.”
The Arkansas Department of Health says the flu vaccination will not give a person the flu.
“Seasonal flu is a disease that causes mild to severe illness and is easily spread,” the ADH states on its web site. “Each year in the United States, 25 million to 50 million infections are reported, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized and 23,600 die due to seasonal flu.”
The seasonal flu virus is spread through coughing or sneezing and by touching a hard surface with the virus on it and then touching one’s nose or mouth. The vaccine takes one week to two weeks to start working and is 70 percent to 90 percent effective in preventing the seasonal flu.
Fort Smith is also seeing an influx of flu patients.
To keep flu sufferers from clogging its emergency room, a Fort Smith hospital has opened a separate clinic to keep non-emergency patients away.
The president of Mercy Clinic, Dr. Cole Goodman, said the emergency room at Mercy Fort Smith is “bursting at the seams” with waits of up to 10 hours. He told The Times Record that about 60 percent of recent emergency room cases have been flu-related, but flu isn’t always an emergency.
Still, people should seek emergency care if they have fast breathing, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, bluish skin color and fever with a rash.
The Sparks Health System said the flu is dangerous for young children, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.