St. Charles Parish Hospital officials said that verified cases of the flu are already beginning to spike, and in the public schools, 32 cases have been reported.
There is still time, however, to prepare for the seasonal epidemic.
“Now is the time to be vaccinated, as the vaccine needs two weeks to build up to full strength,” said Dr. Jackson Earle Hatfield, family health practitioner with St. Charles Parish Hospital.
Hatfield said that December through February is when the flu virus is most prolific, though the CDC warns that the flu season can begin as early as October and be present as late as May.
The CDC has listed Louisiana as one of two states in the U.S. where influenza was “widespread,” the highest classification of influenza activity on the report.
Darla Rebowe, school nurse coordinator for St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said that it is challenging for parents to know when to keep children home from school, particularly with a new law limiting student absences to only 10 per school year.
“Every stomach ache is not a cause to stay home,” Rebowe said.
Rebowe said her office highly recommends parents monitor their child’s temperature and, if it exceeds 100 degrees, they should keep their child home for 24 hours. This helps prevent the spread of the illness, as the fever is a sign of contagiousness.
For those who do get the flu, Hatfield said there are drugs that can be administered to help with the process. If taken within 48 hours of symptoms, Tamiflu is shown to significantly reduce the severity of the illness, Hatfield said.
“It’s not a cure – unfortunately, there is no cure,” he added.
Both injection and nasal spray forms of the flu vaccine are available at St. Charles Parish Hospital and local clinics. Hatfield said the two are equally effective, recommending the nasal spray for children who may be scared of the vaccine needle.
Hatfield indicated that St. Charles Parish is stocked with adequate supplies of both the vaccine and Tamiflu.
Hatfield said that all health insurance plans that he knows of have covered the flu vaccine 100 percent. For those without coverage, he said, there is only a nominal fee.
In the meantime, both Hatfield and Rebowe say that hygiene plays a significant role in ensuring that the flu does not affect school and work life in St. Charles Parish. Washing hands and cleaning surfaces go a long way toward preventing the spread of the illness.
In the schools, Rebowe said, teachers have been trained to alert nurses and custodians when a significant amount of coughing or sneezing has occurred in a classroom. With the Thanksgiving holiday, classrooms have received a much-needed opportunity to be thoroughly cleaned.
Members of the community can monitor the flu situation by visiting www.cdc.gov/flu.
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