Flu season arrives

Staff and Associated Press reports

Health officials say Louisiana physicians are seeing a big uptick in flu-type illnesses as patients line up at doctor’s offices and hospitals across the state.
The rate is nearly three times what the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention projects as normal for the region.
Dr. Frank Welch, immunization medical director for the state Office of Public Health, said it’s virtually all the swine flu variety, known as H1N1 influenza.
The normal rate for the flu in CDC counts what the federal agency calls the “base line” is about 3 percent or 2.9 patients with flu-type illnesses per 100 patient visits to a doctor’s office or clinic. Louisiana is now above 8 percent, almost triple the normal rate for this region.
The big jump occurred in the final weeks of 2013. Tracking started for the 2013-14 period in October.
“We are certainly seeing it, and the data suggests a lot of flu in the area,” said Dr. Fred Lopez, with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “There’s been widespread flu activity in half of the states in the country. Louisiana has been one of them for two weeks in a row.”
Right now, doctors are not seeing any signs that the flu outbreak is letting up, Dr. Robert Blereau of Morgan City said.
“Just because you had the flu this year, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to have the shot now,” Blereau said. “There are several flu viruses circulating around.”
Normally, people build up immunity to one virus after getting that virus, but people are still susceptible to getting the flu from other viruses, Blereau said.
The flu shot is the only protection and getting the vaccination may lessen the severity of the flu if someone contracts the flu, Blereau said. The flu shot is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for everyone ages 6 months and older, Blereau said.
Welch and Lopez said it’s not too late for Louisiana residents to get a flu shot.
“Get your shot, stay away from sick people and wash your hands a lot,” said Welch.
Lopez, an infectious disease specialist, said the vaccine this year protects against four different strains of the flu, including the H1N1, which is showing up in Louisiana.
“The vaccine is well-targeted toward the prevalent strains,” said Lopez. But, he said, “It takes two weeks for the antibodies to develop the immunization to protect against the flu.”
The flu shot protects an individual 85 to 90 percent of the time, Welch said.
Reporting from The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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