The Louisiana flu season has been mercifully quiet so far, but that could change as cases of the illness increase across the country.
Despite the lull in the season, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is encouraging everyone to get a flu shot.
“It’s just a matter of time before it gets here,” said Dr. Frank Welch, immunization medical director at DHH.
The flu usually gets going in the large cities and spreads from there, which is what is being seen now.
“Given trains, planes and automobiles, it doesn’t take much time,” Welch said. “The best protection is the flu shot.” Flu shots start taking effect immediately but become fully effective in about seven days, after the body has a chance to produce a defense.
“It takes a while for your immune system to respond,” Welch said.
Last year, the flu shot ended up containing a different strain than what eventually made its way around the country. This year, however, the flu that is being experienced matches the flu shot strain much more closely, resulting in greater effectiveness.
Other preventative measures include those that everyone learned in kindergarten: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, stay away from sick people and, if you are sick, stay home.
Long-term averages show that flu season typically lasts from December through February with declining numbers seen in March, but there is no knowing exactly when it will begin or end, Welch said.
“The only thing you can predict about the flu is it’s unpredictable,” Welch said.
Louisiana hospitals and doctor’s offices are only seeing about two people with flu-like symptoms out of every 100 patients. In a busy year, that number would be about seven or eight, Welch said.
This year, he suspects the slow start to the flu season is because of warmer winter weather all over the country. People haven’t been as cooped up inside where flu can spread more quickly from person to person. With the weather turning colder, that’s going to change, he said.
“I think we’re going to see a big spike in flu now,” Welch said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.