Ozarks Healthcare Physicians urge Precautions against Severe Flu Strain and COVID-19
With the holidays quickly approaching, there is concern among health officials regarding travel and the spread of COVID-19. However, with Influenza A H3N2 being this year’s dominant strain of the flu, Ozarks Healthcare physicians are also concerned about the potential of a threatening flu season.
According to the Missouri Hospital Association, the last flu season when Influenza A H3N2 was the dominant strain was that of 2017-2018, which led to the highest burden of disease in the U.S. at the time since the H1N1 (“swine flu”) pandemic in 2009. In 2020, while there was concern for a heightened flu season in conjunction with COVID-19, numbers remained fairly low. Physicians suspect this was largely due in part to many COVID-19 precautions such as masking and social distancing being followed fairly closely.
“While we were worried about a ‘twindemic’ of flu and COVID-19 last year, we didn’t actually see heightened numbers of flu cases or hospitalizations,” Dr. Kendell Clarkston, hospitalist at Ozarks Healthcare, said. “Given that our region’s flu vaccination rate is traditionally low, plus our low COVID-19 vaccination rate totaling between 30 to under 40 percent, our chances to see a twindemic is higher this year, especially with more contagious flu strains and COVID-19 variants present.”
Even though much of Ozarks Healthcare’s service area has experienced mild winter weather so far, cooler temperatures do not stop seasonal viruses such as the flu from joining in the mix with COVID-19, which can make it difficult to figure out if you have a common cold, flu, or COVID-19.
Some symptoms between all illnesses overlap, such as fever, a runny nose, coughing, general fatigue, and coughing.
“Illnesses affect people differently because we are all different humans with different immune systems and responses,” Dr. Curtis Horstman, Medical Director of Ozarks Healthcare’s Emergency Department, said. “The loss of taste or smell is definitely a common indicator of COVID-19, but it is not always a defining symptom. The only way to determine which disease you may have is to get tested as soon as possible. No matter the illness, it’s always best to pursue treatment at the earliest possible onset of symptoms, so that we can tackle the virus in its earliest stages.”
The best way to prevent a misdiagnosis or inaccurate COVID-19 test reading is to get tested with the molecular (PCR) testing used by healthcare providers. An early diagnosis can provide a chance to receive treatment such as monoclonal antibodies that can lessen the effects and severity of COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies are currently authorized for the treatment of mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in adults or pediatrics (age 12 years and older and more than 88 pounds) who may be at high risk for progressing to severe illness or hospitalization. Treatment must be given within ten days of symptom onset, so accurate testing is critical to identify eligibility.
Ozarks Healthcare is able to provide monoclonal antibody infusions to those who meet this criteria, have a positive molecular (PCR) test confirmed, and receive a recommendation from a physician for infusion. Treatment is administered via an intravenous infusion by a trained professional.
“Through our monoclonal antibody infusions, we have been able to prevent hundreds of hospitalizations,” Horstman said. “For a health system our size, this is incredible. To be able to have the medication to prevent severe complications from COVID-19 is a blessing that we have been able to use to help save lives.”
Ozarks Healthcare officials also continue to remind those who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or suspect they could have the virus to first call its COVID-19 hotline before visiting an Ozarks Healthcare clinic to be seen or tested. Symptoms of the prevalent Delta variant of COVID-19 include headache, runny nose, and sore throat. This is not an all-inclusive list. Other symptoms include a mild cough or shortness of breath. If you think you may need to be tested for COVID-19, please call Ozarks Healthcare’s COVID-19 Hotline at 417-505-7120, and staff will assist you in scheduling a test and making sure you receive care.
Health issues that are acute enough to seek immediate care but are not life-threatening may be cared for at Ozarks Healthcare’s walk-in clinics. Ozarks Healthcare has two convenient walk-in locations in West Plains (181 Kentucky Ave. (Highland Park), Suite 100) and Mountain Grove (500 E. 19th St.). Both walk-in clinics have resources to treat common but not critical health problems, including minor fractures and sprains, infections (urinary tract, ear, etc.), sore throats, minor cuts, wounds, burns, and scrapes, muscle pains, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and more. Both clinics are open daily. Ozarks Healthcare’s West Plains Walk-In Clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the Mountain Grove Walk-In Clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
While COVID-19 has seemed to be the dominant virus discussed for the past nearly two years, the flu has not disappeared. Both COVID-19 and the flu are viruses that can adapt and mutate each year. Constant mutations mean a higher risk of contracting disease, if no protections or precautions are observed. Thankfully, vaccines are constantly produced and revised to be made effective against new strains.
“Vaccines for both the flu and COVID-19 reduce the risk of a person contracting either virus,” Clarkston said. “Breakthrough infection can occur, especially in populations where vaccination rates are low, but symptoms are much more likely to be milder compared to that of an unvaccinated individual. If we can increase our vaccination rates for both flu and COVID-19 in our region, we can expect to see a reduced chance of having a burdensome season of sickness this winter.”
Ozarks Healthcare offers the Moderna, Pfizer/Comirnaty, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccines on a walk-in basis on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and by appointment on other weekdays at the Ozarks Healthcare Pharmacy located at 1211 Porter Wagoner Blvd. in West Plains. To schedule an appointment, call 417-256-1793.
Flu vaccines are available through the pharmacy on a walk-in basis Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccines, shingles (Shingrix) vaccines, and tetanus vaccines are also available. Flu vaccines are also available at all of Ozarks Healthcare’s family medicine locations.
For more information or to find a family medicine clinic, visit https://www.ozarkshealthcare.com/.
Ozarks Healthcare is a system of care encompassing primary care and specialty clinics, along with complete rehabilitation, behavioral healthcare, and home health services. While the 114-bed acute care hospital cares for more than 5,400 admissions, the entire health system has more than 364,000 patient visits annually in South Central Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For more information about Ozarks Healthcare, visit www.OzarksHealthcare.com.
Dr. Kendell Clarkston (left), hospitalist at Ozarks Healthcare, and Dr. Curtis Horstman (right), Medical Director of Ozarks Healthcare’s Emergency Department