The flu remains widespread in 48 states, with Hawaii and Oregon the only exceptions. It has taken a heavy toll in Arkansas, where 125 people have died so far.
Gibson Heath, 3, has spent the last 12 days at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, fighting the flu. Because of his chronic lung disease, his parents rushed him to the emergency room at the first sign of symptoms.
Sick kids like Gibson have kept Dr. Shane McKinney and his staff in the ER busy. In December, they saw about 180 patients a day, but those numbers have jumped this flu season.
“Volume has been increasing steadily. We saw 306 patients this past Monday, which is a huge increase for us,” said McKinney.
Arkansas’ healthcare system also saw an explosion in flu claims paid out by Medicaid. At this time last year, more than 3,000 flu-related Medicaid claims had been paid. But with the flu hitting the country hard this year, Arkansas has paid out more than 8,000 flu-related Medicaid claims.
At a clinic in Little Rock, Dr. Jay Douglas Holland is taking a different approach in dealing with the spike in flu cases. Even though his waiting room is empty he still treats five to 10 patients — over the phone.
“I go through a pretty thorough history about fever, body ache and sore throat,” he said. “If someone has all of those, I feel comfortable treating them over the phone and we are not charging for that.”
Last year in Arkansas, no children died from the flu. But this year, three children have already been killed by the virus, which is why doctors are still urging people to get their flu shot.