With influenza season approaching in Southeast Louisiana, Dr. Stacy R. Newman, of North Oaks Infectious Disease, cautions to not take chances against the easily spread respiratory virus.

While frequent hand washing, maintaining safe physical distancing practices and covering coughs or sneezes will decrease the risk, influenza vaccination is by far the best defense in preventing the flu this season, Newman said.

“In the midst of pandemic fatigue, it’s important to keep your guard up against common diseases, such as flu, that can significantly affect our health — yet remain largely preventable conditions and illnesses. This is why I urge everyone meeting the recommendations to get the influenza vaccine yearly,” Newman said. “It’s the single best way to prevent influenza. Even if you happen to get the flu, having the vaccine onboard not only will reduce the severity of your symptoms, but also will decrease your risk for secondary pneumonias, hospitalization and other health complications.”

This year, all flu vaccines in the U.S. are quadrivalent, offering protection against four strains of the flu virus projected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be most prevalent for the 2021-22 season: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and two influenza B viruses.

Most health insurance plans are accepted, and many may cover the vaccine as a preventive service to covered family members. To verify acceptance of your plan and preventive service coverage, contact your insurance provider. Self-pay options are available by request.

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Vaccination of high-risk individuals is especially important to decrease risk of severe flu illness. Vaccination is important for health care workers, those who live with or care for high-risk individuals, as well as caregivers of and those who live with infants younger than six months. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also should get vaccinated to avoid severe complications from the flu. Vaccination during pregnancy or while breastfeeding can help protect infants during the first months of life (when they are too young to be vaccinated).

Flu vaccines are not appropriate for infants younger than 6 months of age, individuals with severe life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine ingredients and those who have had a severe allergic reaction to a dose of the flu vaccine in the past.

North Oaks Urgent Care in Hammond, Ponchatoula and Walker are offering flu shots for adults and children, age 6 months and older, including a high-dose vaccine for senior adults, age 65 and older. Walk-ins are welcome at all three urgent care locations between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day of the week. No appointment is needed.

In addition, North Oaks primary care and select specialty clinics in Hammond, Livingston and Independence are administering flu shots by appointment. To locate a participating clinic, visit www.northoaks.org/pcp or call North Oaks Physician Group at (985) 230-APPT (2778) or (844) APPT-NOW (277-8669).