Today, the Department of Health officially kicked off its annual "Fight the Flu" campaign urging Louisianians in every corner of the state to get a flu vaccination. LDH Secretary Kathy Kliebert reminded residents that a flu shot might be the difference between a happy or miserable holiday season.
"No one wants to be sick, especially during the holidays," said LDH Secretary Kathy Kliebert. "If you travel, or have relatives coming to visit during the holidays, you need to be protected against the flu. You'll be thankful you got your flu shot. It's proven and effective in fighting seasonal flu and preventing the spread of this virus. We encourage everyone to get their seasonal flu shot to help protect not only themselves, but their families and friends as well."
Kliebert and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne led by example today, getting their flu shots during a news conference at the East Baton Rouge Parish Health Unit, while LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, who has already gotten his flu shot, provided support. Across the state, regional health leaders and local celebrities held vaccination kickoff events, encouraging residents to fight the flu.
The flu vaccine, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for anyone older than six months, is the best protection against getting the flu. Healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 - those who are not pregnant and do not have chronic illnesses - also have the option to get the live, attenuated vaccine through nasal spray. People should consult their health professionals about whether the shot or the nasal spray is better for them.
Flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years, with hundreds of millions of flu vaccines safely administered. Flu vaccines are safe and are closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration.
Every year, millions of individuals contract the flu, with more than 36,000 people in the U.S. dying from this virus and more than 200,000 going to the hospital. The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which is an infection of the respiratory system that causes fever, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, chills, fatigue and body aches. Most people who get the flu can treat their symptoms at home with rest and medication. But, for some people, the flu is a bigger threat and can cause more serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, or death.
Flu season began last month, but Louisiana's flu activity doesn't peak until January. This gives Louisianians enough time to get vaccinated. While everyone should get a flu vaccine, vaccination is especially critical for certain groups who are at higher risk of developing flu-related complications.
Groups considered at higher risk for flu complications include:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults aged 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives seem to be at higher risk of flu complications
- People with medical conditions including:
- Asthma (even if it's controlled or mild)
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury]
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater)
"Vaccination is also important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk individuals to keep from spreading flu to people who may be especially susceptible to the virus' effects," said State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. "This includes anyone who works with babies younger than 6 months of age, who are not eligible for the vaccine, themselves."
Other people for whom vaccination is especially important are:
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and;
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
- Health care workers;
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu, and;
- Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 5 years of age with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children younger than 6 months of age (children younger than 6 months are at highest risk of flu-related complications but are too young to get vaccinated)
While the vaccine is the best protection, because the flu can spread from person-to-person through coughing, sneezing and casual contact, there are several preventive strategies everyone should practice to stop the spread of the flu. These include:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If tissues are not available, cough or sneeze into your arm and not your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu, a cold or a similar illness, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Only leave your home for medical care or other necessities. This will prevent exposing others to your illness.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
For more information on the flu and how to protect yourself, visit www.dhh.louisiana.gov/FightTheFlu.