Health officials: Swine flu outbreak in Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Health officials say Louisiana physicians are seeing a big uptick in flu-type illnesses as patients line up at doctor’s offices and hospitals across the state.

The rate is nearly three times what the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention projects as normal for the region.

Dr. Frank Welch, immunization medical director for the state Office of Public Health, tells The Advocate (http://bit.ly/19PKNtC ) it’s virtually all the swine flu variety, known as H1N1 influenza.

The normal rate for the flu in CDC counts, what the federal agency calls the “base line” is about 3 percent or 2.9 patients with flu-type illnesses per 100 patient visits to a doctor’s office or clinic. Louisiana is now above 8 percent, almost triple what the normal rate for this region.

The big jump occurred in the final weeks of 2013. Tracking started for the 2013-2014 period in October.

“We are certainly seeing it, and the data suggests a lot of flu in the area,” said Dr. Fred Lopez, with the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. “There’s been widespread flu activity in half of the states in the country. Louisiana has been one of them for two weeks in a row.”

Welch and Lopez said it’s not too late for Louisiana residents to get a flu shot.

“Get your shot, stay away from sick people and wash your hands a lot,” said Welch.

Lopez, an infectious disease specialist, said the vaccine this year protects against four different strains of the flu, including the H1N1, which is showing up in Louisiana.

“The vaccine is well-targeted toward the prevalent strains,” said Lopez. But, he said, “It takes two weeks for the antibodies to develop the immunization to protect against the flu.”

The flu shot protects an individual 85 to 90 percent of the time, Welch said. If someone gets a shot and gets the flu, it would be less severe, he said.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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