Parish residents are urged to get flu vaccines after officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that this yearís flu season is off to its earliest start in a decade.
"This is the earliest regular flu season weíve had since the 2003-2004 flu season," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said. "That was an early and severe flu year, and while flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains weíre seeing suggest that this could be a bad flu year."
So far, Louisiana is one of five states in the country that have reported a high level of flu activity, Frieden said.
The flu strains circulating this year also tend to cause more severe diseases. The good news is that this yearís flu vaccine is a 90 percent match for the circulating strains.
"Itís time to get vaccinated if you havenít already gotten vaccinated," Frieden said. "Every flu season is different and we expect different patterns in different flu seasons, but vaccination, by far, is the best tool we have to protect ourselves against flu."
While some may be surprised that the flu season has started so early despite warmer winter weather, Dr. Melinda Wharton, with the CDC, said there is no evidence that weather is a factor in determining the severity of a flu season.
According to a recent CDC report, 48 states and Puerto Rico have already reported confirmed flu cases. Flu-like illness activity levels in parts of the country are already higher than all of last season.
While Louisiana has seen a high number of cases, local health officials have yet to see a major spike in flu cases.
"St Charles Community Health Center hasnít experienced an unusual number of flu cases, but that may be because more people have gotten the vaccine this year," Julia Bodden, spokeswoman for the health center, said. "That is evident from our stock depletion."
Quinn Landry, spokesman for St. Charles Parish Hospital, said physicians have seen a moderate number of flu cases, but that residents are urged to get the flu vaccine, as it is usually the best protection against the flu.
Some people, such as the elderly, young children and people with certain health conditions, are at a high risk for serious flu complications.
People with flu can spread it to others from up to six feet away. Most experts believe flu viruses can spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
The St. Charles Community Health Center is currently offering flu shots for $15. Walgreens is offering the shots for $31.99 and CVS is offering flu shots for $29.99, though they say the shots are covered by most insurance plans.