Doctors urging people to take the flu seriously as peak of season approaches

(WVUE) - There is a warning from a local coroner about this year's aggressive flu season. Doctors continue to see a serious virus causing problems across the state and sending a number of people to the hospital.

St. Tammany Parish coroner Dr. Charles Preston is concerned that residents are underestimating just how dangerous and contagious the flu is.

"Folks have the idea that it's just the flu and you have to let it run its course. Well just the flu and pneumonia is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States every year," Preston said.

Both Preston and the State Health Department are urging people to get the flu shot if they haven't already. And, if you do get sick, they're asking you to stay home and away from others to prevent the spread of the virus.

"One out of every 10 visits to a hospital, doctor or clinic - and again this is just an estimate - is for flu-like illness, and I have to be honest with you, I have never seen it at 10%. Typically, if we get up around, you know, and this would be late February, around 5.5 or 6% that's about the worst I've ever seen it," said Dr. Frank Welch with the Louisiana Department of Health.

Doctors say this year's flu vaccine offers up to 35% protection against the serious A strain of the virus called H3N2. But, medical professionals say your best defense against getting sick is to still get the vaccine. That's because they're also seeing another A strain going around - that's H1N1 or Swine Flu. You may remember that type made a lot of people sick back in 2009. Doctors are also seeing the weaker B strain.

"Although it doesn't seem like the vaccine is perfect for the H3N2, it still does work, it still will provide you partial protection, and then it's well matched to the H1N1 and the B strain," said Welch. "It's very possible that you get H3N2 today and then a month from now get H1N1. That's why it's especially important to get the vaccine."

And, as Louisiana continues to see the highest flu rates in the country, doctors are urging you to take the threat seriously.

"The worst possible thing is to go to work, go to school, congregate with other people, because instead of having one employee, you can end up with virtually a business closed down," said Preston.

If you think you have the flu, call your doctor as soon as possible so you can get on Tamiflu within 48 hours.

Doctors also say you should not be around others until you have not had a fever for 24 without the use of fever-reducing medications. That's a good indication that you are no longer contagious.

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