Doctors predict more flu cases in coming weeks, urge people to get vaccinated now

Flu shot
Flu shot(FOX 8 photo)
Updated: Dec. 26, 2018 at 4:41 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A new CDC report shows flu season has officially started and is expected to peak in the coming weeks.

For those who have made it this far without so much as a sniffle, it’s because the start of flu season is noticeably less severe than last year.

“We’re kind of on track to have, if there is such a thing, a normal flu season. I think why everyone was so concerned was because it was so bad last year,” said Dr. Frank Welch, Medical Director of the State Immunization Program.

It was one of the worst years on record: About 80,000 people across the country died from the flu in 2017.

"I mean, we had triple the number of deaths and illnesses that we normally see. Well this year, we're starting out fairly normal. We're starting to see influenza, it's starting to pick up," Welch said.

Welch said the number of people reporting flu-like symptoms is a third of last year at this time.

“The statistic that we have right now is we’re at just over 4 percent, and what that means is four out of every 100 visits to every healthcare provider is for flu-like illness. Now, not all of those are going to be the flu, but that’s a really good indicator of how much flu you have around,” Welch said.

One reason last year’s flu season was so bad was because the vaccine didn’t match the dominant flu strain.

“So far this year...the strains that have been reported have been those strains that have been included in this year’s vaccine,” said Dr. Fred Lopez with LSU Health and Infectious Diseases.

He said the vaccine is usually 50 percent effective.

“Fifty percent efficacy is still better than zero percent efficacy with a vaccine-preventable illness that can result in death,” Lopez said.

Another reason for the delayed season may be the warmer weather this year.

"I think the colder it gets, the more likely people are going to go inside to congregate, and the closer they are to one another, the more likely they're going to transmit this infection," Lopez said.

However, doctors warn that we’re not in the clear just yet.

“I am 100 percent positive that it’s going to get worse. It just hasn’t reached us yet,” Welch said.

Physicians say now is the time to get the flu shot because it takes at least two weeks for the vaccine to become effective.

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