By DR. FRANK WELCH | LDH Immunization Program Director
It’s Louisiana, and it’s February. You know what that means: laissez les bon temps rouler. When you’re reaching your hands to the sky on those Mardi Gras parade routes, which would you rather catch: those prized throws and beads … or the flu?
Louisiana is still deep into flu season, which began all the way back in August, and those big Mardi Gras crowds provide ideal conditions for flu to spread. Flu activity in the state has increased over the previous week and remains more than double that of the regional baseline. About a quarter of tests reported by clinical laboratories in Louisiana are positive for flu.
Every year, there are about 500 deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations in Louisiana due to the flu. Many are preventable simply by getting a flu shot.
Catch beads, not the flu
The flu shot takes about two weeks to go into full effect, so now is the time to get yours, to make sure you’re catching beads instead of the flu this Mardi Gras. The flu shot reduces the severity of illness and complications, meaning there’s less chance a person with the flu would be hospitalized, or if hospitalized less chance that a person would go to the ICU. The vaccine also protects those around you, including young children and older adults who are at higher risk of developing severe flu illness or even death.
The flu shot is especially recommended for babies and young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people 65 years and older — essentially, everyone 6 months and older except those with a medical reason not to be vaccinated.
The flu vaccine isn’t a perfect defense and is the target of plenty of falsehoods; you can read accurate information about these myths here. It is true that some people who get a flu shot may still get the flu, but the good news is that the flu shot lessens the symptoms. The fact remains that the flu shot is your best defense against getting and spreading the flu.
Symptoms and treatment
The flu shows up abruptly, with these symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
Most people recover from the flu on their own with plenty of fluids, rest and over-the-counter medications or antiviral drugs, if prescribed. If you have had the flu, stay home for at least 24 hours after the symptoms subside, unless you’re very sick and in need of medical care. If you or a family member may have the flu, call your doctor immediately.
Stop the spread of flu
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3, stay away from others until you have not had a fever for 24 hours.
- Call your doctor immediately to see if an antiviral medication is appropriate for you.
- If you are sick, do not visit vulnerable loved ones who may be receiving care in a hospital, nursing home, cancer center or other setting.
- If you are sick, do not kiss babies, pregnant women, grandparents and others who may be at a higher risk of getting sick.
- Cover your cough and sneeze.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
Learn more about how to fight the flu here.
Flu shots are available at no cost at any parish health unit. Local pharmacies, clinics, doctors’ offices and federally qualified (community) health centers also have flu shots available. To find a flu shot provider near you or for more information about flu, visit ldh.la.gov/fighttheflu.
Now, let the (flu-free) good times roll!