NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The CDC says Louisiana is reporting the most flu cases in the country with a particularly high concentration in New Orleans. Doctors and health officials say the problem is becoming very serious very fast.
“We currently lead the nation in the number of influenza like cases,” says Joe Kanter with the Louisiana Department of Health. “Over the past week, 4.6 percent of every health care visit in the state was for an influenza like event.”
While the rest of the country is reporting low numbers to start the flu season, one state stands out and one region in particular.
“It’s really being driven by a cluster of cases in the New Orleans area. So, a lot of activity and a lot of reason to be concerned,” says Kanter.
Louisiana is no stranger to strong and deadly flu seasons but medical experts say this many this early is still uncommon.
“The prediction of a flu season is always difficult. What is interesting is that we are seeing more B strains in Louisiana where the rest of the country, which is experiencing low level of influenza activity currently, they’re seeing more of the influenza A strain,” says Dr. Fred Lopez with LSU’s Infectious Diseases.
Doctors say right now the most important thing to do is hit the ground running early and work to spread the word instead of the virus.
“We need to do awareness,” says Dr. Eric Griggs. “We need to get people to wash their hands, wash their nasty hands. Get their flu shots and stay aware and educated.”
Dr. Griggs says the common misconception about flu shots is one of the largest hurdles.
“I go to the VA Hospital and they want you to get it,” says one man.
“I just don’t believe in it. I’ve never gotten the flu,” says one woman.
“Actually, I’ve had family members who’ve had bad experiences with the flu show,” said another woman. “They’ve actually gotten the flu from the flu shot.”
“It’s called herd immunity,” Dr. Griggs explains. “I get my flu shot so that if I’m exposed, I won’t give it to you. The flu shot doesn’t actually give you the flu. There’s a myth that ‘Oh, the flu shot made me sick.’ No. What happens is when you get your flu shot, it’s not a virus. They take piece of it. It’s dead and they give it to you so your body can mount a response. It’s like going to practice. It’s a dress rehearsal.”
“So it’s a lot of reasons to get it and I don’t want people waiting until later in the season, especially with the earlier cases. The time to get the flu shot is now,” says Kanter.
And while it’s not clear if the early spike means bad news for the rest of the season, it’s important to stay vigilant and pay attention to the numbers.
“It’s hard to make those predictions,” says Dr. Lopez. “It’s early. We’ll know more week to week to week. The next report will come from the Public Health Department on Friday.”