State health officials are warning this year's flu looks a lot like the 2009 strain that killed thousands of people. Local infectious disease physician, Timothy Haman, explains what is making this year's flu so intense.
Hospitals in Southwest Louisiana are busy with the flu, reporting three times the baseline number. "Our flu activity right now is very elevated. The usual baseline is around 2.5 percent and we are well over 7.0 percent," said Dr. Haman with CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital.
Dr. Haman says the predominant strain is H1N1, the same as the deadly swine flu outbreak of 2009. "It tends to be a little more infectious and it tends to spread a little more easily than the other strains," he said.
Younger people are being hit especially hard by the flu this year and it is packing a nasty punch. "They can have a very severe response and develop what is called acute respiratory distress syndrome," said Dr. Haman, "and we have seen several cases of this, both at our hospital and other hospitals locally."
This year's flu test is not proving as effective as in years past. Some people presenting with flu-like symptoms are being told they do not have the flu. However, when those samples undergo more sensitive testing at a site in New Orleans, they test positive for the flu. "We had several patients that appeared to have very severe cases of the flu, but their swabs were negative so we contacted the Office of Public Health and were able to do some more sensitive and they did all return positive for flu," said Dr. Haman.
While a firm number on flu deaths has not been given this season, we have been told that there are around 10 in Southwest Louisiana.
This year's vaccine does protect against several strains, including H1N1. "The H1N1 strain is in the flu vaccine," said Dr. Haman, "as well as the H3N2, which is the other strain going around commonly this year."
Dr. Haman says everyone should get the flu shot and even if you have had it, he says that you should not let your guard down with frequent hand-washing. "The flu shot is not 100 percent effective, but it does help and the important thing to remember is that it takes at least two weeks and in some cases four to six weeks to develop antibodies," he said.
It is especially important for pregnant women, the elderly and caregivers to get flu shots this year. For the first time, there are flu shots available for those with egg allergies.
Flu season typically lasts until March. The vaccine gives protection for an entire year.