Medical experts strongly urge people to get their flu shots this year following a deadly season
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Flu season may get off to an early start in Louisiana this year, and doctors are recommending people to get their shots now.
The U.S. had close to 80,000 deaths from the flu last year, the highest number, doctors say, in decades.
“Some of the worst flu outbreaks on record have been in the hundreds of thousands of deaths. This was, however, a really bad one. We hope that this year will not be as bad, but there’s no way to predict that,” said Benjamin Springgate, section chief of Community and Population at LSU Health.
Louisiana was hit particularly hard.
“There were over 15,000 hospitalizations. We saw about 1,600 deaths, six of those folks were kids. We had a really really bad flu season,” said Joseph Kanter, medical director of Region One, Louisiana Dept. of Public Health.
Doctors say it's difficult to track what the strains of flu will be each year.
"The flu mutates frequently, and unfortunately, these mutations can mean that the vaccine may not be as effective once it's given out to people as when it was originally devised," Springgate said.
However, even if they can't guarantee which strains will be predominant this year, doctors say some protection is better than none.
"Getting a flu shot reduces your risk of getting sick, first of all. It reduces your risk of ending up in the hospital, and it reduces your risk of death," Springgate said.
Those at risk are the elderly, small children and those with chronic conditions.
However, recent strains seem to be getting young, healthy people seriously sick, as well.
"One of the scary things we saw last year is some very healthy individuals landed in the ICU, and that's frightening," Kanter said.
According to the CDC, flu season is usually between fall and winter, with peak months between December and February.
Someone in Shreveport was diagnosed with the virus as early as August this year.
"August is relatively early to see flu cases in Louisiana or in the United States, so we're hopeful that does not mean we're going to have an earlier outbreak," Springgate said.
Physicians say that even those who don’t get very sick should still get the shot to protect surrounding people.
“You can harbor the virus in you without getting very sick, and still pass it on to other people. Flu vaccine helps stop that,” Kanter said.
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