LDH and the CDC recommend an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months age and older. There are documented benefits from flu vaccination, including reductions in flu illnesses, related doctors' visits and missed work or school. Vaccination also prevents flu-related hospitalizations and death. If you have not been vaccinated yet this season, make plans to get your flu vaccine. You can find out where to get your flu vaccine at www.FighttheFluLA.gov.
Influenza activity in Louisiana (and Alaska) is now characterized as "widespread", which is above the level seen across the country, and Louisiana's Southern neighbor states. This means that almost 5 percent of all visits to physician offices and hospitals are for influenza-like illness. DHH Secretary Kathy H. Kliebert says that because we are seeing an increase flu cases "it is even more imperative that we become vaccinated. The best gift you can give your loved ones is the gift of good health. Get your flu shot to protect not only yourself, but also friends and loved ones, and encourage them to get their shots too."
Yesterday the CDC released a health advisory regarding the potential for circulation of drifted influenza A (H3N2) Viruses. "Even if vaccine effectiveness is reduced against drifted circulating viruses, the flu vaccine will protect against non-drifted circulating vaccine viruses. Further, there is evidence to suggest that vaccination may make any flu illness milder and prevent influenza-related complications," says LDH Medical Director for the Immunization Program, Dr. Frank Welch. If an individual does contract the flu virus antiviral medications are suggested.
The two prescription antiviral medications recommended for treatment and prevention of influenza are oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®). Evidence from past influenza seasons and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic has shown that treatment with these types of medications has both clinical and public health benefit in reducing severe outcomes of influenza and, when indicated. However, antiviral medications must be started as soon as possible after influenza illness begins in order to be effective.
The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. between December and February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May. According to the CDC, the 2014-2015 flu season shows that flu activity is low across the United States, but there are signs that activity in increasing. Flu activity is expected to increase further in the coming weeks.
The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's Twitter account and Facebook.