We’re seeing “quite a number of cases now,” said Esther Ryan, nurse at Dr. Robert Blereau’s office.
The increase in flu patients began “a couple weeks ago,” and continues now with patients being mostly younger or families, she said.
The strain here, influenza A-H3, is difficult, but the after-effects are lingering with a bad cough, congestion and even pneumonia as a result, Ryan said.
Lynnell Hanson, Blereau’s lab manager, said the office swabs a percentage of its patients in an effort to assist the state in its tracking of the disease. The swabs are tested locally and then tested again by the state. This lets them know what strains of the flu are in what parts of the state.
According to flu.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Louisiana has seen localized infections in the week ending Nov. 24, that’s up from a sporadic classification the week ending Nov. 10. Neighboring Mississippi is classified as experiencing widespread infection as of Nov. 24, the last date for which statistics were available.
The Associated Press reported Monday that this year’s flu season started early and is predicted to be a bad one, and Ryan agreed.
“This is an early breakout. Usually it doesn’t start until the end of December or early January.” Flu season typically lasts until the end of February.
The St. Mary Parish school system is monitoring attendance daily, Donald Aguillard, school superintendent said.
Last year, Berwick Elementary was a hot spot for flu, he said. Earlier this year, Hattie Watts experienced a period of higher student absences due to flu or flu-like symptoms, he said. At this point in the school year, student attendance is normal, he added.
Today, attendance was 94.23 percent across the parish. However, there was a significant attendance dip throughout November.
According to statistics released by Aguillard, as of Oct. 17, 95.48 percent of students were in attendance. On Oct. 30, attendance was 93.15 percent; Nov. 5, 92.56 percent; Nov. 27, 92.01 percent. Since Nov. 28, attendance has hovered around 94 percent.
Higher-than-normal reports of flu have come in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. An uptick in flu cases like this usually doesn’t occur until after Christmas, according to the Associated Press.
It’s not clear why the flu is showing up so early. But flu-related hospitalizations are rising earlier than usual, and there have already been two flu-related deaths in children.
The last time a typical flu season started this early was the winter of 2003-04. That also happened to be a year when the dominant flu type was the same one seen most widely this year.
One key difference: In 2003-04, the flu vaccine was a poor match to the flu strain.
Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone who is 6 months of age or older.
“In a good year the flu vaccine is 70 percent successful,” Blereau said previously.
However, the flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective against the flu, he said.
“The vast majority of cases have been type A, which is usually more serious and a worse illness than type B,” he explained. “The typical case (of the flu) lasts about five days.”
“It is not too late to get the flu vaccine right now,” Blereau said.
People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease as well as pregnant women and people 65 years old and older are at high risk of developing serious complications such as pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.
The flu vaccine contains three different viruses, Blereau said. “When you get the flu you usually will be infected by only one virus. Therefore you will be susceptible to getting one of the other viruses in the future. The vaccine will help protect you from another case of the flu later this season should one of the other viruses begin to circulate,” Blereau said.
Ryan added that even if you do contract the flu and have had a flu shot, it will ease the duration and symptoms.
“It’s never too late to get a flu shot,” she added.