H1N1 is one of several strains of the flu that are circulating right now. All can be deadly. Louisiana's flu activity has spiked in recent weeks and continues to be widespread and very high. Health officials expect this year's flu season to continue into April. According to the state's most recent influenza surveillance data, flu symptoms accounted for about 7.6 percent of the state's doctor visits last week. The state's seasonal flu activity is most prevalent in North and Central Louisiana. Click here to view the influenza surveillance reports.
Because of the increases, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is strongly encouraging all residents who haven't already done so to protect themselves and their families by getting a seasonal flu vaccination. Each year, the flu kills more than 36,000 Americans.
"It's not too late to vaccinate," said J.T. Lane, assistant secretary for Public Health. "The flu shot only takes a few days to be effective, and people are usually protected completely within 7-to-10 days of getting the flu vaccine. Vaccines are the best preventive measure we have to help fight the spread of this illness. This year's vaccination will protect against the seasonal flu and the H1N1 virus."
The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months get the flu vaccine. Medical studies show getting the flu vaccine has proven to be very safe and effective in preventing people from catching the flu.
While everyone should get a flu vaccine, vaccination is especially critical for certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications. Those groups include:
• Children younger than 5, especially children younger than 2 years old
• Adults 65 and older
• Pregnant women
• American Indians and Alaskan Natives, who appeared to be at higher risk of flu complications last flu season
• People who have a weakened immune system or chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease
"Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high-risk individuals to keep from spreading flu to people who may be especially susceptible to the virus' effects," said Dr. Frank Welch, director of the state's immunization program. "This includes anyone who works with babies younger than 6 months of age, who are not eligible for the vaccine, themselves. This year's vaccine is plentiful and available at many places, including health care providers, pharmacies, some employers and Louisiana's parish health units."
In addition to getting the vaccine, DHH encourages the public to take other preventive actions to stop the spread of the flu:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
• While sick, limit your contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
For more information on flu activity by region in Louisiana and to find out how you can avoid being ill, visit www.FighttheFlu.la.gov.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov. For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's Twitter account and Facebook.