In late December, Dr. Jason Richey, who practices medicine at the Mercy Clinic in Paris, said he thought the number of flu cases would soon lessen because kids were out of school for the Christmas break.
In his own words, he thought December would be the peak. At the time there had been 69 diagnosed flu cases in Paris and the Paris area since November — a period of two months.
But the flu season hadn’t peak and it would get worse.
Last week, Dr. Richey said Mercy Hospital in Paris and Mercy clinic had diagnosed 105 cases of the flu in just the two weeks since Jan. 1.
“In the last two weeks, it’s really cranked up,” Dr. Richey said.
It’s not only in the Paris area, it’s everywhere. Last week, flu was reported to be widespread in 49 states. The exception was Hawaii. And, the word epidemic is routinely used to describe the situation.
Since November, the flu virus has killed 49 people in Arkansas. For the week ending Jan. 13, 13 people in Arkansas, including an eight-year-old boy, died from the flu. There have been no deaths in Logan County, though, according to Dr. Richey.
“We’re seeing a lot of sick people,” Dr. Richey said last Friday. “We’re also seeing a lot of people with flu-like symptoms but they test negative for the flu. Some people who tested positive for one strand of the flu last month are coming back in with the other strand of flu. They’re getting it twice, but different strands. Our peak is usually February and I thought the peak was in December. Right now, I don’t know when the end is.
“One-hundred-and-five cases in two weeks, that’s an epidemic,” Dr. Richey said.
Dr. Richey suggests that if you don’t have the flu, practice good hygiene such as frequent hand washing, coughing in the crook of an arm, avoiding people who are sick and, if symptoms show up, seek treatment and stay at home.
He also suggests that if you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine shot, you should, despite the fact the vaccine issued this year is proving to be not as effective as in the past.
“It won’t hurt to get the flu shot,” Dr. Richey said, “but it may not be as effective. I still recommend getting it because it can lessen the strength of the flu and shorten the amount of time you have the flu. I’d suggest getting the pneumonia vaccine, too. We’re seeing a lot of pneumonia, too.”
The flu is also showing up in area schools. And not just among students. Staff is being affected, as well. According to the Arkansas Department of Health’s weekly flu report, schools in Logan County are averaging 8.7 percent of students absent. That’s also the state average. However, some counties are reporting absences as high as 20 percent, according to the report. In some cases, school districts are closing because of the flu.
Mercy Clinic is also taking measures to curtail the flu’s spread, Dr. Richey said.
“We’re segregating people with flu symptoms from regular patients in the waiting room and in our examination rooms,” he said. “We’re also cleaning examination rooms after every patient like we’ve never done before. We’re scheduling a lot of patients coming for, say, a normal exam for a later date to keep them away from flu cases.”
The bottom line is this: If you are sick, seek treatment and then stay home until you are well. If you are well, take every possible precaution because this epidemic is serious and, perhaps, unprecedented.
Let Dr. Richey provide some perspective about the epidemic.
“I’ve been here 19 years and I can’t ever remember having this many flu patients,” he said.