State health officials urge residents to get flu shot

(WAFB) - Officials with the Louisiana Department of Health estimate between 7,000 and 8,000 people will be hospitalized this flu season. They are offering all residents who have not gotten the flu vaccine a chance to get it on their dime.

Influenza is now widespread in every state but Hawaii. So far, 30 children have died from it. It's not clear yet how many adults have died from the virus, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports 31.5 people for every 100,000 have been hospitalized. Louisiana health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, says most of the deaths associated with the virus come from the body's failure to fight off an infection that settles in after you get the flu.

"Pneumonia, sinus infection, ear infections, literally your immune system doesn't fight the secondary bacterial infection which sets up shop once you're weakened by the flu virus," Guidry said.

Dr. Guidry says if someone in your home has the flu, it might be a good idea for the rest of the household to get on a round of anti-viral medication too, practice good hygiene, and be sure to keep the person carrying the virus in a separate room. "That person needs to have plenty of fluids, plenty of rest, they need to have medicines if they are running a fever. Literally making sure they drink plenty of fluids, that they have supportive care, is what's most important," Guidry said.

The LDH is offering free flu shots on Wednesday, January 31 at 55 clinics across the state. Dr. Guidry is urging everyone who has not gotten the vaccine to get one. Even if you've already had the flu this season, Dr. Guidry says you could still get a different strain of it. While the vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, Dr. Guidry says that doesn't mean it isn't working.

"It could be life-saving. If I got the flu and I don't have the vaccine, I might get deathly ill and end up in ICU, and maybe die from secondary infection, whereas if I got the shot I may have three or four days of a course and say, well the flu wasn't so bad," Guidry said.

If you do have flu symptoms, hospitals are asking that you visit your doctor or an urgent care clinic, not an emergency room. Doctors say if you do have the virus, visiting the ER could put other patients at risk.

Click here for a list of clinics that will be offering free flu shots on Wednesday, January 31.

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