Amid COVID-19 Outbreak, Concerns Over Other Illnesses Grow

Mar 19, 2020

UAMS is seeing a higher frequency of calls and visits, due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Credit UAMS

While the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to grow across the country and across Arkansas, seasonal illness with similar symptoms are also circulating in the state. Seasonal allergies, the flu and other illnesses that share symptoms with COVID-19 are causing some to believe they could have the coronavirus.

Dr. Robert Hopkins is the chief of the division of general internal medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He says the presence of the coronavirus has resulted in more people calling and visiting UAMS over health concerns.

“There have been lots of calls to our traditional venues, through our clinics. I think there has been an uptick in people showing up to the emergency department. And then of course we’ve had a respiratory screening clinic that’s been open, essentially a drive-thru, since Friday and we’ve had well over 500 people drive through that clinic,” Hopkins said.

Dr. Jennifer Dillaha is the medical director for immunizations and outbreak response at the Arkansas Department of Health. She says the department has also seen an uptick in calls concerning the coronavirus, so many that they needed additional staff.

“We’ve gotten 20 people from the National Guard and 20 people from the Department of Human Services, so now, our calls don’t have a backlog anymore,” Dillaha said. 

The main symptoms of the coronavirus, a dry cough and a fever around 104 degrees, could be an indication of a different ailment such as a cold or the flu. According to the latest flu report from the Arkansas Department of Health, this year’s flu season has recorded almost 33,000 cases in Arkansas alone.

Dillaha says the flu is still circulating across the state, but its intensity has decreased. She says. one reason for that could be the presence of the coronavirus.

“I was looking at data today and I thought, you know I wonder if some of the things that people are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is working to help prevent the spread of flu. I think it very well is,” Dillaha said.

The arrival of spring also brings allergies, which could also lead some to believe they could have coronavirus.

“We’ve had a lot of wet and dry weather kind of back and forth. We’ve got some early pollens that are starting to show up, and so springtime allergies can cause people to have congestion, cough, drainage. Shouldn’t have fever with allergies, but congestion and cough is one of the symptoms that people are concerned about,” Hopkins said.

The concern over a possible coronavirus diagnosis has led to an increase of visits to the doctor’s office, according to Hopkins.

“If you ask any physician in primary care or internal medicine or family medicine or pediatrics, in particular any nurse, or anybody that answers phone calls in those offices, it’s pretty much a universal answer [of] yes you’re getting a lot more calls. Not just what we see in the health system level, but in private practice offices also,” Hopkins said.

The concern over COVID-19 has also impacted those working in the healthcare industry, Hopkins says.

“I think that the same unknowns that are affecting some of the patients in community are affecting those in healthcare,” Hopkins said. “‘Am I doing everything I can to protect myself as a person who works in healthcare and not taking this home to my family?’”

However, Dillaha believes that the concern over COVID-19 has led to better health practices by people.

“People are worried about it, and they should be. It’s more deadly than the flu and we don’t have a vaccine and we do not have evidence-based treatments yet,” Dillaha said. “So people are more worried about it and they’re willing now to take steps to prevent themselves from getting it. And it’s similar steps to what they could take to prevent the flu, but that hadn’t been as important to them in the past.”

UAMS’s drive-thru triage is open daily from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. A free online screening is also available at UAMS’s website.  More information on the coronavirus in Arkansas can also be found at the Arkansas Department of Health’s website