LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Hospital leaders are keeping a close eye on the flu in Arkansas this year— and experts believe this season could likely be one we haven't seen since before the pandemic.
At least 30 Arkansans have already died from the virus this season.
Baptist Health told us that they are seeing three times as many flu patients in the hospital than those with COVID.
That's a concern for them because flu patients are sicker than those battling COVID this year.
Leaders have also noticed that the strain of the flu this season is affecting younger people much more than COVID.
This year, with COVID cases nowhere near what we saw at the height of the pandemic, Dr. Amanda Novack, an infectious disease physician at Baptist Health has become more concerned with the flu.
"This is really the first time since March of 2020 that we've had more flu than we have COVID," Dr. Novack explained.
She said that masks likely kept flu cases down over the last two years, but now it's back with a vengeance.
"Our flu patients are much sicker than our COVID patients," Dr. Novack said.
To put that into perspective, Novack said 85 flu patients were admitted to Baptist Health, while 31 are in the Intensive Care Unit and 15 are on ventilators.
On the other hand, in the entire hospital system, only 31 COVID patients were admitted, with only two on ventilators.
"It looks like it's going to be one of the biggest flu seasons certainly in over a decade," Dr. Novack explained.
She compared this to pre-pandemic flu seasons.
In 2018, there were 228 flu deaths in Arkansas, and in 2019 there were 120 deaths.
"90% of our COVID Patients are over the age of 60, but we have about 40% of our flu patients are under the age of 60," Dr. Novack said.
According to her, younger people are getting sick with the flu much more than COVID right now.
"Young people are less likely to get vaccinated for the most part and just their activity level will be different," Dr. Novack said.
She added that even though there is no indication that this flu season will get better, she doesn't anticipate any issues with staff becoming overwhelmed.
Hospital leaders have said they still have plenty of nurses and ventilators.
"For the individual, this flu season is worse than COVID, but for the healthcare system, it's really not nearly as impactful as those COVID surges," according to Dr. Novack.
She also wanted to remind the public that flu season will end eventually and added that getting a flu shot is the most effective way to fight against the virus.
She also recommended wearing a mask, especially if you are at high risk and have diseases like COPD and heart disease.