With flu cases and flu-related deaths high, Mercy Hospitals Arkansas, Washington Regional Medical Center, St. Bernards Healthcare, Baptist Health and the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement are joining forces to urge Arkansans to get their flu shots now to be protected in time for holiday gatherings and to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“Visits to Arkansas health care providers for the flu are exceptionally high. Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but we are already seeing a level of infections well above the highest average peak in the past five years,” ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson said in a news release issued jointly by the hospitals and ACHI.
“It is time to take precautions — safeguard others if you have symptoms by staying home, get tested for treatment, protect yourself and get the shot,” Thompson said.
As of Saturday, Dec. 10, the Arkansas Department of Health reported that there have been 64 flu-related deaths in the state this flu season, 19 of them in the past week. Of those who died, 75% were unvaccinated, according to the Health Department. Being vaccinated for the flu can lower your risk of severe illness or complications if you get the flu.
More than 15,900 positive flu tests have been reported to the Health Department by health care providers this season, although reported cases represent only a portion of actual cases, because not everyone who gets sick gets a test. The Health Department also reported that in the week ending Dec. 10, Medicaid and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield paid for more than 6,000 visits to health care providers for the flu. This is down from more than 7,000 visits the previous week, but it is still unusually high: Typically, the number is fewer than 1,000 at this time of year, and the number usually does not reach as high as 5,000 in a single week at any point in the season.
Some Arkansas school districts have canceled in-person classes because of high numbers of flu cases, including the Cleveland County School District, which announced last week it was switching to virtual instruction for two days. To date, no Arkansas hospitals have reported being overwhelmed, but some hospitals in other states have set up tents to accommodate excess patients with the flu, COVID-19 or respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV.
“We are seeing an unusually high number of flu cases for this early in the flu season,” said Mercy Hospitals Arkansas President Ryan Gehrig. “I urge everyone who is not vaccinated to get a flu shot now so upcoming holiday celebrations do not put you and your loved ones at risk.”
Washinton Regional President and CEO Larry Shackleford said, “The high level of respiratory virus cases has not exceeded the capacity of our facility at this time, but the ‘tripledemic’ of flu, COVID-19 and … RSV could make this winter a challenging one if people do not take precautions.”
“It can take two weeks to receive the full protection from a vaccine,” said St. Bernards Healthcare President and CEO Chris Barber. “If you have not received a flu shot this season or are not up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines, act now to protect yourself, your loved ones, your community and Arkansas’s health care workers this holiday season.”
Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells said, “It’s not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones before the holidays. Get your flu shot now so your body can have the best possible protection by Christmas.”
See more on our newly created Flu in Arkansas page.
See news coverage of our release from KARK, KAIT, The Batesville Daily Guard, and the Arkansas Times.