Avoiding close contact with people who are sick is a key. Wash your hands frequently, and clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. The virus spreads through coughing, sneezing, and even talking, so be sure to cover your cough or sneeze.

The Louisiana Department of Health reports widespread flu activity throughout the state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Louisiana is among the states with the highest confirmed flu cases through symptoms and laboratory surveillance.

The flu is a contagious respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus, according to St. Elizabeth Physicians. It causes mild to severe illness and can even lead to death in some cases. Young children, pregnant women, and people over the age of 65 are at a higher risk for serious complications. Every year more than 300,000 people in the U.S. contract the flu.

“In more severe seasons, the flu causes approximately 700 deaths and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations each year,” said Dr. Rebekah Gee, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. “In Louisiana and we are already on track to meet and possibly exceed these statistics for the current flu season.”

LDH offers some tips to prevent the spread of the flu. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick is a key. Wash your hands frequently, and clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces. The virus spreads through coughing, sneezing, and even talking, so be sure to cover your cough or sneeze. Call your doctor immediately if you have cold or flu symptoms.

If you are sick, there are a number of ways you can avoid spreading the virus to others. Stay away from others until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Do not visit vulnerable loved ones when ill. That includes babies, pregnant women, the elderly, and those receiving care in a hospital or nursing home.

But of course the best way to stay healthy is to get your flu shot. According to St. Elizabeth Physicians, a flu shot can reduce the risk of contracting the virus by up to 90 percent. State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry with LDH agrees and reminds the public it's not too late to get a flu shot.

“Now is still a good time to get a flu shot. Flu vaccine is readily available for both children and adults throughout the state at health care providers, community pharmacies and parish health units in each region,” said Dr. Guidry. “Although a flu shot is never 100 percent effective, a vaccination is the best way to prevent getting sick from the flu and getting serious flu complications.”

St. Elizabeth clinics offer flu shots during regular business hours in Gonzales, Dutchtown, Prairieville, and Donaldsonville. Flu shots are also available at CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid pharmacies throughout the parish.

The CDC recommends a yearly flu shot for everyone over six months of age who does not have a complicating condition. The vaccine is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who can even pass the antibodies along to their baby to protect them. The flu shot offers partial protection immediately with full protection after two weeks.

For more information on the flu and flu shots, visit ldh.la.org/fighttheflu.

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