With flu season approaching, the Louisiana Department of Health reminds all residents of the importance of getting an annual flu vaccine.

The flu causes approximately 500 deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana, and tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S.

“An annual flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu, which can be very serious and can even result in death for some high-risk patients,” said Rebekah Gee, MD, MPH, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. “Flu shots are safe and the best way to prevent the spread of this virus in our communities.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Louisiana Department of Heath recommend a yearly flu shot for everyone over six months of age who does not have a complicating condition, such as a prior allergic reaction to the flu shot. Also, the nasal flu spray has been shown to be ineffective over the past several years, and is no longer recommended by the CDC

Getting a flu shot is crucial for some people. This includes babies and young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions or people 65 years and older. People is each of these groups may be at higher risk for serious flu complications.

Dr. Frank Welch, medical director for the Louisiana Department of Health Immunization Program, said the flu shot protects individuals from getting the flu, and it also keeps people from spreading it to others who are more vulnerable.

“For example, babies under six months of age are not eligible for a flu shot, and this makes it especially important that other family members and caregivers get vaccinated,” Welch said. “Although a young, healthy person might not get very sick from the flu, they can be a carrier and pass it on to someone in a high-risk group who might become seriously ill.”

Welch added the flu shot is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who can pass on antibodies to their babies that will help protect them.

The flu shot starts to offer partial protection immediately, but takes about two weeks to offer full protection. Flu shots are now available at local pharmacies, clinics, doctor’s office and federally qualified (community) health centers. Check flushot.healthmap.org for a flu shot provider near you. Visit fighttheflu.la.gov for more information and resources.

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 residents. To learn more about LDH, visit www.ldh.la.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow LDH's Twitter account and Facebook.