Baton Rouge – In addition to the damage that Katrina wreaked upon Louisiana, she also left massive numbers of people displaced from their city and their homes for what could be quite a long time. While many of these displaced residents have found friends or family members to stay with, there are still large numbers of families who are living in shelters across Louisiana.

 While the shelters are kept clean and sanitary, there are many people who are living in very close quarters. When there are large numbers of people who are living so close together, the risk of airborne disease, like influenza, increases greatly.

 Therefore, preventive vaccinations are very important.  In a very short time, Louisiana will enter influenza season. Flu season usually begins in November and ends in March. However, when living in housing such as evacuation shelters, even at this time, one case of influenza can easily spread to become many cases. This could pose a very serious problem to a healthcare system that is already strained.

 It is for this reason that the Department of Health – Office of Public Health (DHH/OPH) are taking recommended vaccines to all shelters across the state.  For persons in shelters, this may include several types of vaccine, including influenza.

 Last Friday, the LDH/OPH Nursing Services and Immunizations programs began a massive vaccination campaign in both special needs and general shelters in Louisiana. Working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Public Health Service, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, Willis-Knighton Health Center and numerous community volunteer groups and schools of nursing have administered various vaccines to over 8,000 shelter residents and shelter workers since the campaign began. 

 Vaccinations have been completed in the Baton Rouge, Houma-Thibodaux, Lafayette and Lake Charlesareas. Strike teams are currently vaccinating in areas in and around AlexandriaShreveportMonroe andHammond. The vaccination effort has been temporarily halted due to Hurricane Rita, but will resume as soon as the storm clears. It is the expected that all vaccinations will be complete by the middle of next week.

 Although it is early in the influenza season, it is very important that all people who live or work in shelters receive the influenza vaccine. “With people living in such close quarters, a flu outbreak could be really bad. So we are proactively vaccinating a little early for to protect shelter residents and workers,” state Immunization Program Medical director Dr. Frank Welch said.

 Dr. Welch warns that it is still too early for the general population to receive flu shots. “Influenza vaccine has a period when it is most effective. If the public were to receive the influenza vaccination now, it would be less

effective when flu season peaks in December and January,” he said.  He recommends that persons in high risk groups begin to receive the flu vaccine in mid to late October.

 These high risk groups include: people over age 65, residents of long-term care facilities, people aged 2-64 years with chronic health conditions, children aged 6 months to 2 years, pregnant women, health care personnel and household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 6 months. The Office of Public Health will begin its regular influenza campaign in late October to early November.

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