Acadiana leads Louisiana in positive flu cases | news

After two unusually quiet flu seasons, the dreaded respiratory virus has risen to a decade high in the US, and Louisiana is among the hardest-hit states.

A map of flu activity shows Louisiana glowing bright red, one of 13 states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified as “high” for the virus. Another 14 states are classified as “very high,” most of them in the South.

“Influenza rates have increased in all areas of Louisiana,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, medical director of infection control and prevention at Ochsner Health, adding that other viruses also contribute to the high burden of disease in hospitals.

Although the flu has overtaken other respiratory viruses such as RSV, adenovirus, parainfluenza and rhinovirus, the combination has resulted in overcrowded emergency rooms and packed doctor’s offices. And while the early start may mean the typical January peak flattens out earlier, gathering and traveling for the holidays may prolong the rise in flu and other illnesses.

“It looks like there are a lot of viruses out there and that can happen more when we gather over the holidays,” Baumgarten said. “We will continue to see a likely increase in viral diseases in circulation.”

Lafayette area highest for flu

Within the state, the Acadiana region has the highest incidence of influenza, ranking 12th, or “very high,” on a 13-point scale that the CDC uses to track influenza activity. New Orleans follows at a “high” rate and Baton Rouge is “moderate”.

“The difference this season is the number of flu cases that occur so early in the season,” said Dr. Amanda Logue, Chief Medical Officer of Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center. “Even in the pre-pandemic era, we don’t typically see it picking up that fast this early.”

In the past seven days, Ochsner Lafayette General had about 900 people come to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms who needed to be tested. About 1 in 3 was positive for flu — “the very high end of positivity for most flu seasons,” Logue said.

Another 670 patients visited emergency clinics in the past seven days and tested positive in about a quarter of the cases.

Like COVID-19, the flu will make its way through the population, Logue said.

Doctors attribute the unusually early and intense respiratory virus season to the dismantling of COVID mitigation measures like masking and distancing and lack of exposure to the viruses when people mingled less during the peak of the pandemic.

“This year, there’s a larger population of people who didn’t get the flu last year, and so we’re seeing it spreading faster,” Logue said. “The exposure is coming right now in a vulnerable population that hasn’t had immunity since last year.”

Highest in young people

Cases are highest in people between the ages of 5 and 24, according to government data, with just over 1,000 visits in the week through Nov. 12, the latest data available. Children aged zero to four followed with between 500 and 750 visits this week.

The number of positive tests in children was significantly higher across all OCHSNER facilities in the country. Test positivity was 27% in children last week and 34% in children the week before, compared to 19% to 25% in the adult population.

“We see people of all ages getting the flu,” said Dr. Brody LeBlanc of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Group. “Young people under the age of 5 and people over the age of 65 are the risk group for serious infections and more hospital admissions. This is the time when we typically see an increase in cases and I feel like we are seeing more positive cases than in the past.”

Heart problems more likely after flu

Doctors are pushing for vaccinations ahead of the holidays, and not just to protect against the flu. Vulnerable people who become very ill from the flu may have a long illness that spreads into other health problems.

“This isn’t just about flu, especially in our adult population,” Baumgarten said. “After the flu, there’s an increased risk of getting other diseases, like heart attacks and strokes.”

According to initial data from other countries, the vaccine seems to be well suited for the currently circulating influenza A strain. In Chile, where the US is evaluating how well the vaccine is working against circulating strains, hospitalizations of people vaccinated against influenza A were reduced by 49%.

The vaccine also appears to protect against heart attacks and strokes, which are more likely to follow an illness, Baumgarten said. A study of over 4.1 million adults found that the risk of stroke was about 23% lower in the six months after a flu shot, regardless of the patient’s age, gender or underlying health conditions, according to data published in The Lancet in November.

“Flu season is different every year, and we don’t know exactly what’s coming,” LeBlanc said. “There is no way of telling how severe the symptoms will be, how contagious it will be, or how easy it will be to spread to others. So we encourage everyone to get the flu vaccine.”

Staff writer Eric Narcisse contributed to this report.

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