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Two die locally from flu, hundreds more treated

Two die locally from flu, hundreds more treated

Two people have died amid the hundreds of flu cases hospitals in Houma and Thibodaux have treated this season, officials said.

The virus has hit the U.S. hard, sending more people to the hospital than any time since the swine flu epidemic of 2009, federal officials say.

So far this season, influenza has killed at least 53 children, including 16 during the week ending Jan. 27, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday. Of the total killed, 80 percent had not received a flu shot and about half did not have any other medical condition.

The percentage of patients who sought medical attention for flu-like symptoms hit 7.1 percent, up from 6.5 percent a week earlier, the CDC said.

Louisiana remains among the hardest-hit states. About 5 percent of people seeking care at doctor’s offices, clinics and hospitals have flu-like symptoms during a typical season, but the figure now exceeds 10 percent, according to the state Health Department.

“Louisiana is experiencing a severe flu season, and the flu strain we are seeing now is one that typically causes more severe illness and results in higher hospitalization rates and deaths,” said Dr. Frank Welch, state immunization medical director. “In more severe seasons, the flu causes approximately 700 deaths and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana. We are already on track to meet and possibly exceed these statistics for the 2017-18 flu season.”

Terrebonne General Medical Center had recorded two flu-related deaths as of last week, according to figures from the Houma hospital. TGMC had diagnosed 346 cases of influenza since the beginning of the season Oct. 1, about half since the beginning of the year. TGMC estimates about 30 percent of all visits to the hospital’s emergency room have been due to flu-related symptoms or complications.

Thibodaux Regional Medical Center had diagnosed 310 flu cases this season, including 120 since Jan. 1, said Aimee Toups, an infection-control preventionist at the hospital.

A spokesperson with Ochsner Health System, which operates Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma and St. Anne Hospital in Raceland, said those hospitals have also seen above-average flu cases this season but would not provide numbers.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, the CDC says. Children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses are the most vulnerable to complications or death.

Flu season, now in its 12th week, has probably not peaked. A typical season lasts 16 weeks.

Cases are on track to exceed those of 2014-15, among the highest in years, Daniel Jernigan, head of the CDC’s influenza division, said during a news briefing Friday. During that season, the U.S. recorded 56,000 deaths, 710,000 hospitalizations and 16 million people who sought care for flu-like symptoms.

“We continue to recommend the flu vaccine even though we know most flu vaccines have low effectiveness against H3N2 viruses, effectiveness against other flu viruses is better, and there is more than one flu virus circulating this season,” said Anne Schuchat, the agency’s acting director. “The vaccine may also reduce the severity of symptoms if you catch the flu in spite of being vaccinated, and it is not too late to get the vaccine.”

 

-- Staff Writer Holly Duchmann can be reached at 857-2205 or holly.duchmann@houmatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @holly_evamarie.