Respiratory illnesses not pressuring Fort Smith metro hospitals

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 977 views 

Like most of the country, the Fort Smith metro is seeing an increase in the flu and other respiratory illnesses as the holidays approach, but officials with area hospitals say they are not seeing a strain.

On Dec. 5, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a statement regarding RSV, flu and COVID-19 stating that doctors across the country were seeing elevated levels of respiratory viruses including RSV, flu and COVID-19.

“Especially for RSV and flu, these levels are higher than we generally see this time of year. Levels of flu-like illness, which includes people going to the doctor with a fever and a cough or sore throat are at either high or very high levels in 47 jurisdictions and that is up from 36 jurisdictions just last week,” the statement said.

The CDC estimated that since Oct. 1, there have already been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu across the country. Reported flu hospital admissions, which were already high for this time of year, had nearly doubled during the last reporting period.

“Compared to the week prior, hospitalizations for flu continue to be the highest we have seen at this time of year in a decade, demonstrating the significantly earlier flu season we are experiencing,” CDC officials said.

In Fort Smith, Mercy Fort Smith and Baptist Health-Fort Smith have seen increasing numbers of flu in the past couple of weeks, the hospitals reported.

“We’ve seen a lot flu the past few weeks,” said Rep. Dr. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood. Johnson is also the medical director for Fort Smith EMS and Southwest EMS and a practicing emergency room physician. Johnson said while flu numbers seem to be high, there had been less COVID and RSV in the past week.

“(We) had a lot of RSV earlier in the fall, but it seems to have settled down,” he said.

Mardi Taylor, senior media relations and communications specialist with Mercy Fort Smith, said that while Mercy has seen increasing numbers of flu and RSV over the past couple of weeks, it has not been anything overwhelming. She added that COVID hospitalizations had stayed steady until the first of December.

“We jumped back up to 14 hospitalized patients, the first time we’ve been in double digits since October,” Taylor said, noting that by Friday (Dec. 9), there were only 12 COVID patients in the hospital and two in ICU.

On Friday, Baptist Health-Fort Smith was caring for 19 patients with the flu, five of which were in critical care. Eight patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 and two patients had RSV, said Alicia Agent, hospital marketing manager.