The 2019-2020 Flu Outbreak


Just two weeks into the 2019-2020 flu season, the southeast corner of Louisiana made the state the worst afflicted in the nation. Already the outpatient number of recorded influenza-like illness cases stands at 4.6%, which is nearly double the national average of 2.4%, “influenza-like illness” being a commonly used phrase by medical facilities to track cases of patients who have flu-like symptoms such as 100-degree fevers.

Only Louisiana is ranking so highly in influenza activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and it has already exceeded the regional baseline while being above figures from the previous five years.

According to CDC historical data, the 2008-2009 season has been the only other season in the last 10 years which has seen flu-like activity as high as Louisiana is seeing now, and even then, Louisiana was joined by four other southern states recording high levels of activity. Since then, it’s been rare for a state to even reach the “moderate” bracket. In the 2018-2019 season, LDH data showed a four-year high where the peak of activity saw roughly 12% of outpatient visits due to flu-like symptoms. An estimated 1,400 Louisiana deaths could be attributed to last year’s season, and 14,000 additional patients received treatment.

“We seem to be really at the forefront of the flu season this year,” said Louisiana Department of Health assistant secretary for the office of public health Dr. Alex Billioux. “It certainly is hitting Louisiana a bit earlier than it normally would.”

The Brighton School, a small institution in Baton Rouge, had to cancel classes in early October this year when more than a third of its high school students contracted the flu, type B.

Even with these already severe outbreaks, the CDC’s most recent data has Louisiana clinicians bracing for a probable spike in cases as the weather gets cooler and the holidays bring large amounts of people together into confined spaces. The flu season usually starts in October and ends in May, with our peak time being from Christmas to Mardi Gras.

“The numbers were a little shocking to me… I think we’re going to see a surge a little later in the year,” said sports medicine physician Rani Whitfield, based in Baton Rouge.

The season and its peaks can change with the virus however, and currently the flu Louisiana is fighting is Victoria B, and everywhere, people of all ages are getting vaccinated. In fact, so many people are getting vaccinated that there have been many incidents of pharmacies running out of vaccines.

“One of the most popular conversations this week and last in our neighborhood groups, and even carpool line chatter, text messages, is ‘Oh my goodness, my pediatrician is out of the flu shot!’” said the “New Orleans Mom” group cofounder, Ashley Angelico.
However, even if you’ve already had the flu, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. The vaccine protects against four different strains, and type A hasn’t even hit yet.