The worst flu season in almost a decade will likely extend early spring, according to Dr. Parham Jaberi, assistant health officer and assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Public Health, who spoke at the luncheon for the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.
The outbreak is the worst since the N1H1 in late 2009 and 2010, and the epidemic remains strong not only in Louisiana, but across 48 of the 50 states, with Oregon and Hawaii being the exceptions.
“For all intensive purposes, we’re at the peak of the flu season,” Jaberi said.
The extensive outbreak has led the state to begin a no-cost vaccination period, which began on Jan. 31 and will last until at least Feb. 12, he said.
The state is still charging Medicare and Medicaid for the shots, but has waived insurance copayments on the vaccinations.
Health units across Louisiana administered more immunizations in one day than all of the autumn season, Jaberi said.
He attributed the high level of flu and the costs in health care, especially for emergency room visits, for the decision to offer no-cost immunizations.
“I’ve been in contact with other health departments across the nation, and we’re one of the only ones offering this service,” Jaberi said. “I’m proud to say that we’re taking this step.”
The severity of this year’s flu has gotten national attention, so we believe that protecting an individual helps us protect an entire community,” he said.
Immunizations are still the best way to combat the severity of a flu, even though it is not a 100 percent guarantee against contracting the virus. The vaccine does not protect against all strands of the flu, but scientists aim at what they believe will be the most active virus of the year.
Jabari said he does not expect a shortage on the vaccines at parish health units, although he could not vouch for retail pharmacies and private clinics.
He also recommends hand-washing particularly during the flu epidemic, but said it’s a protocol people should follow all throughout the year.