SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - We're in the midst of a severe flu season according to the leading state health official for northwest Louisiana.
A severe season can translate into 700 deaths and nearly 8-thousand people hospitalized statewide according to figures from the Louisiana Department of Health.
That means a lot of time spent at hospitals by thousands of sick people and their loved ones. Now, health officials are turning to the public to help them lower those wait times with a new strategy.
About 11 percent of all visits to hospital emergency rooms, urgent care centers and doctors offices involve a case of the flu in the Shreveport- Bossier area.
That's according to Dr. Marta Whyte, medical director for Louisiana's Region 7 Office of Public Health.
And Dr. Whyte told us unlike a typical flu season, the high flu rate this year hasn't dropped a bit in several weeks, often leading to long wait times at emergency rooms at the big hospitals.
"So, their wait times were three to five hours," said Whyte.
But after discussions with other regional medical authorities Dr. Whyte said they soon discovered it was a much different story at nearby rural medical centers.
"They were telling us, 'our wait times are 20, 25 minutes,'" added Whyte.
So health officials have begun urging the public to utilize facilities like North Caddo Medical Center in Vivian.
"We do have patients who drive north to see us and we're thankful for them and we want to be here for them. You know, anyone who's in need of (an) emergency department," said Mary Coil, marketing director at North Caddo Medical Center.
Dr. Whyte said it's important to point out that anyone suffering from a medical emergency, or those who don't have access to regular health care and need urgent care, they should still utilize an emergency room.
And with flu season typically lasting 13 to 20 weeks, Dr. Whyte said it's not too late to get a flu shot, which begins to offer partial protection immediately and full protection within two weeks.
That fact is critical when you consider the flu can linger into March.
Dr. Whyte said it's important to let people know two facts: One, a flu shot cannot make you sick.
And two, getting a flu shot will shorten the amount of time your sick if you should come down with the flu.