Flu levels continue to rise across the nation, with Louisiana being particularly hard hit this season. And while getting vaccinated is the best protection against the flu, shortages of the vaccine mean that residents must act now if they hope to get the flu shot.
This yearís flu season got off to its earliest start in a decade, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The flu strains circulating this year also tend to cause more severe diseases. Frieden said that 47 states have reported widespread flu activity and that 20 children have died due to the virus.
Flu normally doesnít blanket the country until late January or February.
Julia Bodden, spokeswoman for the St. Charles Community Health Center, said that there has been an increase in the number of flu cases seen by physicians and that the centerís flu vaccine stock is almost depleted. While the vaccine is important in regards to flu prevention, Frieden said that the overall effectiveness of the vaccine is only 62 percent.
"That means that if you got vaccinated you were about 60 percent less likely to get the flu that required you to go to your doctor," Frieden said. "So what we have known for a long time is that the flu vaccine is far from perfect."
Frieden also said that there are spot shortages of the vaccine across the country. More than 130 million doses that were produced by the vaccineís manufacturers have already been given.
"So if you havenít been vaccinated and want to be, better late than never, but call your provider ahead of time," he said.
This yearís early flu arrival also coincided with spikes in a variety of other viruses that mimic the flu and cause similar symptoms. Most people donít undergo lab tests to confirm flu, and the symptoms are so similar that it can be hard to distinguish flu from other viruses.
Quinn Landry, spokesman for St. Charles Parish Hospital, said the hospital has seen an increased volume of patients in the last few weeks, but that most of the viruses treated were not related to the flu virus. Dr. Brent Giuffre, emergency services medical director for the hospital, said he has not seen a huge increase in flu patients but still wants to remind people that preventive measures like washing hands often and avoiding close contact with people who are sick are great ways to help avoid the spread of germs.
On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC. Flu usually peaks in midwinter. Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.
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.
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 the shots are covered by most insurance plans.