Although Ebola is grabbing the headlines, Louisiana residents have a much greater chance of catching the flu this season, and the consequences can be severe. That’s why residents should heed the advice of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and get their flu vaccinations if they haven’t done so.

Luckily, the flu vaccine is widely available at local drugstores, doctors’ offices and health units.

The flu spreads more easily than Ebola, and it can pose significant health challenges to those who contract it, especially the elderly and those already suffering from health problems.

“Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death,” DHH notes in its advisory. “Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.”

Flu season begins in October and can last into May. It’s the time of year when flu viruses circulate most widely. Hand-washing, staying home while sick, and covering one’s mouth while sneezing are obvious ways to prevent the flu from spreading, but these simple precautions can’t be stressed enough these days.

DHH officials are also urging continued vigilance against the West Nile virus, which is spread through mosquito bites. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced five new cases of West Nile recently, but no new deaths.

Last year, Louisiana officials reported 34 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in the state, which was down from a high of 204 cases of West Nile virus neuroinvasive disease in 2002.

Because of cooler temperatures and football season, more Louisiana residents are spending time outdoors these days, and that means increased exposure to mosquitoes. “We should all remember to fight the bite with mosquito repellent and protective clothing. The best defense is a good offense,” said DHH State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard.

That’s good advice, and we hope Louisiana residents heed it.