Locals urged to get that flu shot, as influenza is on the rise
Don Ames Reporting
Flu season has arrived in southeast Louisiana.
"Between Thanksgiving and Christmas and towards Mardi Gras has always been the classic period of time in the New Orleans area when we do have most of the flu," says Dr. Brobson Lutz, with the Orleans Parish Medical Society.
He says it's likely that cases of the flu will peak in January and February.
"But there does, definitely, seem to be an uptick in influenza in southeast Louisiana right now," Lutz says.
Still, he says it's not too late to protect yourself.
"It's never too late to get the influenza vaccine, even if the influenza season is totally past. Getting influenza immunization every year is like putting money into your immune bank. You get some protection in future years, even. And I would encourage everybody to get the influenza immunization now."
"Any person over the age of six months needs to have the immunization vaccine," says Lutz. "Anybody can relieve a lot of discomfort if they get that immunization. It's not always 100 percent effective. But, even when I hear 'Well, I got the flu shot, but I got the flu anyway,' it was probably an attenuated flu episode that they got."
Lutz says, even if you end up getting the flu, the immunization will likely lessen its severity.
There are, of course, those most at risk.
"Influenza can be particularly troublesome for infants and children, for the very elderly, and pregnant women. But, anybody can relieve a lot of discomfort if they get that immunization."
Each year, numerous children are hospitalized and some die from this vaccine-preventable disease. At least three children have already died this year in the United States due to influenza. Last year, 169 infants and children died from the disease -- the largest number of influenza pediatric deaths ever recorded except for the 2009 pandemic.
After receiving the vaccine, it takes a full 14 days to be fully protected, so the sooner you receive the vaccine, the better protected you will be.
"A person can be infectious 24 hours before they actually have any symptoms themselves," Lutz says. "And then, they can continue to disseminate the virus for 5 to 7 days."
In the U.S. alone, companies lose $1,685 per employee a year from calling in sick or coming to work sick and being unable to perform at their normal pace, according to a Kimberly-Clark report. Altogether, such absenteeism costs businesses $74 billion a year.
Almost 4.1 million employees missed work due to illness last January, which was the most since 2008. Even worse, the four-month peak season lasted through March, so the numbers continued to add up. Some years, absences during that four-month period ran at 3.8 million a month, or more than 15 million absences.
The Louisana Department of Health and Hospitals says, in addition to protecting against seasonal flu, studies suggest the vaccine may also protect against heart attacks and stroke.
"Just a little bit of influenza in the community fuels a lot of the chronic diseases," says Lutz. "More people are hospitalized with congestive heart failure, with exacerbation of pulmonary diseases. But the common, underlying thread here is influenza in the community driving these increased hospitalization rates and the increased winter deaths. If you look at weekly graphs, the number of deaths, you always see increased deaths in the winter and almost all of that is driven by influenza."
Those who would like to get a vaccination at a parish health unit should bring proof of insurance. Those without insurance will be charged $10.