Reports of the flu are more than double in Louisiana than in other states, according to Dr. Frank Welch of the Louisiana Department of Health, who added this flu season has been the worst he’s seen in the state in 20 years.
“The level of activity in Louisiana seems far more aggressive than in previous years,” Welch said. “By late November, we were leading the country (in reports of the flu). We’ve had more than double the amount of flu of the rest of the country since the beginning of December.”
The Department of Health receives reports from 90 medical treatment sites throughout the state to survey trends, and Welch said that of every 100 people visiting those offices, between 10 and 11 patients have been diagnosed with flu-like illness. Contrasting that to other neighboring states like Georgia, Texas and Arkansas, which have seen only an average of four to five flu patients per 100 visits.
“We seem to be having twice as many as our neighbors,” Welch said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know the reason for that. Typically, any given flu year, it starts in big cities up north and spreads south to the rest of the country. I don’t know why Louisiana and Mississippi are leading the charge, but it’s the worst I’ve seen in 20 years.”
Welch did say that the flu virus hasn’t shown to cause more severe illness to people individually, but that the level of flu activity has simply spiked.
“There’s just a lot more of it,” Welch said.
A noteworthy strand of the virus this season has been H3N2, which historically infects more people and makes them sick for longer. Welch said in years that strand is prevalent, such as in 2015, there tends to be more serious illness.
“We also have H1NI, also a very serious strain,” Welch said. “Getting one of those doesn’t protect you from getting the other, unfortunately.”
While the effectiveness of flu shots has been discussed and debated among many people in recent weeks, Welch advised anyone that hasn’t had the shot to get one as soon as possible.
“It’s not perfect, but fortunately the three flu strains floating around in Louisiana are in the flu shot,” he said. “Even if you get the flu, having the shot makes you much less likely to get seriously ill. And you should even get the shot if you already have the flu, because it can reduce your risk of getting a different strand after that.”
He advised washing hands, covering coughs and staying away from those who are sick to reduce the risk of drawing or spreading the flu. He also noted that in a workplace, washing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs and telephones can help.
“And if you’re sick, stay home,” Welch said. “Once the fever goes away and stays gone for 24 hours, you can start interacting with people again.”