If you still have not gotten a flu shot, there's a new reason to get it sooner rather than later, as Louisiana is now seeing more influenza cases than any other state in the country.
Weekly surveillance reports prepared by the Centers for Disease Control show the march of the flu across America over the last two months. The latest numbers show Louisiana is the state with the highest level of activity. Only Puerto Rico currently has more cases.
"Most of our clinics have seen tremendous uptick in the amount of influenza that we're seeing," said Dr. Kevin DiBenedetto with the Lake After Hours urgent care clinic on Drusilla Lane. "Sometimes, as much as 10, 15, 20 cases a day per clinic."
Lake After Hours is an Influenza Sentinel Provider, meaning clinics report all flu cases to the CDC. In just 15 minutes, a test can tell whether a patient has the flu and which kind. "Type A" accounts for over 90 percent of cases so far this year. And, with the holidays upon us, experts warn the numbers will continue to rise.
"Traveling, family members kissing, hugging, shaking hands, so that usually prompts a big outbreak when you start seeing it around this time of the year," DiBenedetto explained.
The flu is primarily spread through the air when droplets from infected coughs and sneezes are inhaled. Vaccination is the best protection.
"We have enough supply, so anyone who wants a flu vaccination, there are many options," said Dr. Marilyn Reynaud, regional administrator medical director with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. "They can go to their doctor's office. They can go to clinics. They can go to parish health units. They can go to pharmacies."
Kids are at greater risk of getting really sick from the flu. Doctors advise all children six months and older be vaccinated. And, for healthy kids between two and eight, the nasal spray vaccine is the way to go. People over 65 are also more prone to flu complications. A higher dose vaccine is available for that group.
"Obviously, those that are in the high-risk groups, but we want those around them to also be protected. There may be a few rare people who cannot get a flu vaccine, so it's important then that their loved ones, the persons they're in contact with be vaccinated," Reynaud added.
If you do suspect you have the flu, it's important to get to an urgent care clinic as soon as possible. Anti-viral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza are most effective when taken within 48 hours. They can reduce the intensity of symptoms and shorten their duration by one or two days.
If you've already gotten the flu this year, get the flu shot anyway. DiBenedetto said "Type B" usually appears later in the season.
A trip to the emergency room is not recommended for a standard case of flu. Wait times are usually longer and treatment is more expensive. An appointment is not necessary at Lake After Hours, but those wanting to make a same-day appointment can do so with online check-in.
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