“You can get the flu anytime during the flu season so it’s important to get the flu vaccine even late in the season,” says Nurse Practitioner Lauren Ellis. Southeast Louisiana is getting hit hard by some of the highest rates of flu in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Louisiana is currently categorized as having widespread flu as opposed to just weeks ago when that level was considered minimal.
“The flu is contagious so unfortunately, we are infecting each other,” says Ellis. “The incubation period for the flu (time from exposure to when people get sick) is 1-4 days. People with the flu can shed the virus and infect other people 1-2 days before they have symptoms. The average time people with the flu can infect each other is 5 days. Most people stop shedding the flu virus after 7 days, but this can be longer in certain groups such as children, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.”
The more people who have the flu, the higher the risk that more and more people will get the flu.
After a person receives a flu shot, it typically takes about two weeks for the person to process the vaccine. People who get the flu shot and then later contract the flu are still better off than those who don’t get the shot at all. People who are vaccinated against flu and get the flu, typically get a milder case that lasts a shorter amount of time.
If you do feel flu symptoms coming on such as fever, chills, congestion, it’s important to see a doctor right away. “Flu can move into the lungs and make people more susceptible to bacterial pneumonia,” warns Ellis. “If someone’s symptoms are persisting, they continue to have fever and are coughing up sputum/have respiratory symptoms, they should follow up with their healthcare provider to be evaluated for pneumonia.” Pneumonia is diagnosed with an X-ray and usually treated with antibiotics.
There is a prescription drug that helps those diagnosed with flu strains A or B this season. Ellis says, “Tamiflu can shorten the duration of the flu if given early enough in the course of the flu. Tamiflu is usually only indicated for contacts of people with flu if those people have chronic medical conditions, are over age 65, pregnant or postpartum, or have a BMI >40.” Tamiflu is a pill given twice daily for five days. If someone in your household tests positive for flu, Tamiflu can also be prescribed as a preventive measure for getting the flu.
Flu season in Louisiana typically peaks in December and lasts until February. If you get the flu, be prepared to take it easy for a couple of days, drink plenty of fluids and get rest. “The flu usually lasts 5-7 days, but people can have some symptoms like fatigue that persist for a few weeks,” says Ellis. “Hopefully more people will get the flu vaccine and stay home while sick so we can prevent more cases in the future.”
It’s not too late to get a flu shot. Flu shots are available at any Access Health Louisiana community health center location and are covered by commercial insurances, Medicaid and Medicare. If you’re uninsured, flu shots are available for as little as $20. To find the location nearest you, call 1-866-530-6111 or go to accesshealthla.org