'Spread the word, not the flu,' says DHH

Staff reports

The Department of Health and Hospitals is asking Louisianans to "Spread the Word, Not the Flu!"  in its annual "Fight the Flu" campaign urging people to get an annual flu shot.

Every year, of millions who contract the flu, more than 36,000 people in the United States die of the virus and more than 200,000 are hospitalized.

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. During the last flu season, 48 percent of Louisiana children 6 months -17 years of age received the flu vaccine, below the national average of 51 percent.

"I want to speak specifically to parents today in urging people to take responsibility in protecting themselves and their families against the flu," DHH Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein said. "Children who miss school because of this illness can't learn, and parents fully understand the struggles of caring for a sick child.”

So far this year, flu activity is sporadic across most of Louisiana, with northwest and central Louisiana reporting high numbers of cases. In an effort to stop the spread of the disease, medical professionals and officials from DHH gathered in every region with local leaders to stress the importance of vaccinations.

The vaccine, which this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending for everyone 6 months of age and older, is the best protection against getting the flu.

Flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years and they have a good safety track record. Flu vaccines are made the same way each year and their safety is closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. Hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been given safely.

Although flu season began last month, it's never too late to get vaccinated and be protected against the virus, the department said.  While everyone should get a flu vaccine, vaccination is especially critical for certain groups who are at higher risk of developing flu-related complications.

The groups include all children 6 months - 18 years of age, everyone 50 years and older, women who are pregnant or plan to be pregnant during flu season, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, people with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease), the morbidly obese, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

"Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk individuals to keep from spreading flu to people who may be especially susceptible to the virus' effects. This includes anyone who works with babies younger than 6 months of age, who are not eligible for the vaccine themselves," said State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry. "This year's vaccine is plentiful and available at many places like health care providers, pharmacies, some employers and Louisiana's parish health units."

The flu usually spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze. People occasionally may become infected by touching something with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms fever (usually high), headache, tiredness (can be extreme), coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)

Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms.

DHH also encourages the public to take preventive actions to stop the spread of the flu, such as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throwing the tissue in the trash immediately; washing hands often with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub. avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth, and avoiding close contact with sick people.

For those who have a flu-like illness, CDC recommends staying  home for at least 24 hours after a fever has dissipated, except to get medical care or for other necessities.