It’s Carnival, and that highlight of our Louisiana calendar usually arrives after flu season is long gone.

Not this year.

Even with Mardi Gras parades rolling, the flu season of 2018 continues to be one for the record books. The Louisiana Department of Health reports that while the incidence of new cases is starting to drop, the epidemic that reached nationwide continues at a higher level than in recent years.

And with Carnival and visitors, chances for flu to spread are multiplied, said Parham Jaberi, a physician and assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health.

He gave the Press Club of Baton Rouge an update on Louisiana’s response to the epidemic, including the recent offer of flu vaccines at health units around the state, at no out-of-pocket cost for the nearly 3,000 people who took part.

It is a measure of the severity of this year’s outbreak that Jaberi urged people to get a flu shot, even at this late date in the season. While the vaccine might not be quite as effective against all strains of the flu, he said, it is still by far the best way to deal with the risk of infection.

He again urged Louisianians to take the common-sense steps that they should have learned in kindergarten, including washing their hands and taking care of their health. If the flu strikes anyway, it is vital that people don’t go to work and spread it even further, as well as trying to avoid infecting others in the household, Jaberi said.

Jaberi also emphasized that vaccines are safe. In recent years, fears of vaccines for all sorts of diseases have become epidemic thanks to social media, where myths quickly outrun mere evidence. While nothing is 100 percent safe for every human population, the chances of even a minor reaction to the flu vaccine are small, he said.

In the case of the flu vaccine, many studies and volumes of evidence back up the medical opinion that the shots are safe for almost everyone, Jaberi said. People with other medical conditions or problems that make them anxious about a flu shot should consult a physician.

The last thing anybody wants during Carnival is a parade of family and friends with the flu. Even worse is passing it along in the course of a party or a parade. Basic precautions are still needed even as late as this year’s Mardi Gras season.

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