It's time to fight the flu Louisiana

MGN Online
Friday, October 25, 2013 - 9:29am

Starting this week, parish health units around the state began offering flu vaccinations to all Louisiana residents of age to be vaccinated, the Department of Health and Hospitals announced Monday. In addition to protecting against the seasonal flu, new studies suggest the vaccine may also protect against heart attacks and stroke.

Until now, flu shots at Louisiana's parish health units were reserved only for high-risk groups, in order to ensure that those who most needed the vaccine could get a shot. Based on the level of demand from the "high risk" population and the abundance of flu shots being offered at local clinics and pharmacies, DHH is now opening its vaccine to the general public. Those who would like to receive the seasonal flu vaccination at a parish health unit should bring proof of insurance, Medicaid or Medicare. Those without insurance will be charged $10. Supplies at parish health units are limited, so call first or make an appointment. To find your local parish health unit, click here.

DHH is urging Louisianians to protect themselves and their families by getting this year's seasonal flu vaccination. In the United States, flu season begins in October and runs through April. Though flu activity is currently low, flu season in Louisiana typically peaks in February. It is not too early to get protected for the peak of flu season.

Every year, millions of individuals contract the flu, with more than 36,000 people in the U.S. dying from this virus and more than 200,000 going to the hospital. Influenza also has a tremendous impact on school attendance and on the families of school children. Twenty-eight percent of school-aged-children get influenza each year. For every 100 school children, influenza accounts for 63 missed school days a year. Of every 100 children who get the flu, 25 family members will come down with the flu within three days.

"Right now, flu activity is low in Louisiana, but that will not always be the case and it's no reason to let your guard down," said DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "Getting a flu vaccination now will help protect you throughout this year's flu season. I want to speak specifically to parents today in urging people to take responsibility in protecting themselves and their families against the flu. Children who miss school because of this illness can't learn, and parents fully understand the struggles of caring for a sick child. This is such a simple step every parent can take. I challenge Louisiana moms and dads to beat the national trends and raise our rates of children's flu vaccinations starting today."

The flu vaccine, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for anyone older than six months, is the best protection against getting the flu. Healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 - those who are not pregnant and do not have chronic illnesses - also have the option to get the live, attenuated vaccine through nasal spray. People should consult their health professionals about whether the shot or the nasal spray is better for them.

Flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years, with hundreds of millions of flu vaccines safely administered. Flu vaccines are safe and are closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration..

"Vaccines are the best preventive measure we have to help fight the spread of this illness, and we encourage everyone to get their seasonal flu shot to help protect not only themselves, but their families and friends as well," said Assistant Secretary for Public Health J.T. Lane. "Every one of us is responsible for our own health. Simple decisions we make every day go a long way to building healthier outcomes. There is no simpler, safe and effective decision we can make to stay healthy this flu season than getting the flu vaccine."

The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which is an infection of the respiratory system that causes fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, chills, fatigue and body aches. Most people who get the flu can treat their symptoms at home with rest and medication. But, for some people, the flu is a bigger threat and can cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, or death.

Groups considered at higher risk for flu complications include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults aged 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives seem to be at higher risk of flu complications
  • People with medical conditions including:
    • Asthma (even if it's controlled or mild)
    • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury]
    • Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
    • Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
    • Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
    • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
    • Kidney disorders
    • Liver disorders
    • Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
    • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
    • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
    • People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater)

Other people for whom vaccination is especially important are:

  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and;
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Health care workers;
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu, and;
    • Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 years of age with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children younger than 6 months of age (children younger than 6 months are at highest risk of flu-related complications but are too young to get vaccinated)

While the vaccine is the best protection, because the flu can spread from person-to-person through coughing, sneezing and casual contact, there are several preventive strategies everyone should practice to stop the spread of the flu. These include:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If tissues are not available, cough or sneeze into your arm and not your hands.
  • 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, a cold or a similar illness, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Only leave your home for medical care or other necessities. This will prevent exposing others to your illness.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

For more information on the flu and how to protect yourself, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov/FightTheFlu.

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