Louisiana's weekly flu report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) includes two new pediatric deaths, one of which occurred in early January and was just reported to the Department of Health this week. So far this flu season, four children have died from the flu in Louisiana. State law requires hospitals and health care professionals report all flu deaths in children to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the state shares that information weekly with the CDC. The latest pediatric deaths are from Southeast and Southwest Louisiana. The two previous deaths were in Northwest and Southeast Louisiana.
Since Oct. 1, 2013, high tech lab tests have confirmed at least 53 deaths statewide from influenza. However, hundreds of people die in Louisiana each year without ever being diagnosed with the flu or from other conditions made worse by influenza, so this figure does not represent the full risk to the population of the flu.
CDC evaluations, adjusted to the 2014 situation in Louisiana, estimate since October 2013 in Louisiana there may have been up to 520,000 cases, up to 5,200 hospitalizations, and up to 600 deaths caused by influenza. The statewide estimate by the CDC is based on their data adjusted for 2014. To understand more about how CDC produces their estimates please visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/us_flu-related_deaths.htm#categories
H1N1 is the dominant strain of flu that is circulating right now. All can be deadly. Louisiana's flu activity remains widespread and high. Health officials expect this year's flu season to continue into April. According to the state's most recent influenza surveillance data, flu symptoms accounted for about four percent of the state's doctor visits last week. The state's seasonal flu activity is most prevalent in North and Central Louisiana. Click here to view the influenza surveillance reports.
Because of the increases, the Louisiana Department of Health is strongly encouraging all residents who haven't already done so to protect themselves and their families by getting a seasonal flu vaccination. Each year, the flu kills more than 36,000 Americans.
The flu shot is your best protection against the flu. It's not too late to get a flu vaccination. Once you get the shot, it takes about 7-10 days to be fully protected. This year's vaccination will protect against the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus.
The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months get the flu vaccine. Medical studies show getting the flu vaccine has proven to be very safe and effective in preventing people from catching the flu.
While everyone should get a flu vaccine, vaccination is especially critical for certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications. Those groups include:
- Children younger than 5, especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives, who appeared to be at higher risk of flu complications last flu season
- People who have a weakened immune system or chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease
Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high-risk individuals to keep from spreading flu to people who may be especially susceptible to the virus' effects including anyone who works with babies younger than 6 months of age, who are not eligible for the vaccine, themselves. This year's vaccine is plentiful and available at many places, including health care providers, pharmacies, some employers and Louisiana's parish health units.
In addition to getting the vaccine, LDH encourages the public to take other preventive actions to stop the spread of the flu:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- While sick, limit your contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
For more information on flu activity by region in Louisiana and to find out how you can avoid being ill, visit www.FighttheFlu.la.gov.