Breaking News
More () »

Hospitals strained, blood supply low as flu hits Louisiana

The flu is the most widespread it has ever been since health officials began tracking the virus 13 years ago, The CDC map shows Louisiana is among states with the highest flu activity.

NEW ORLEANS -- Chances are you, or someone you know, has the flu.

It's the most widespread it has ever been since health officials began tracking the virus 13 years ago and the Center for Disease Control says Louisiana is among the states with the highest flu activity.

Looking more closely at Louisiana, New Orleans is high, but not as high as the Northshore or most of the state.

Nationwide, 30 children have died, at least two of whom we've confirmed were from Louisiana, and many of whom appeared to be healthy to start with.

And we have just confirmed, Louisiana is leading the country in the number of flu cases. State health officials predict 600 to 1,000 cases will be deadly.

The flu is also putting stress on local hospitals and the blood supply.

The empty shelves at the Blood Center tell the story. Less than a day's supply is available for the 32 hospitals from Baton Rouge all the way to Pascagoula, Mississippi.

"All of the blood that was collected yesterday, tested overnight, has already been labeled and shipped out already. Right now we have a very critical shortage of blood and blood components," said Dr. Tim Peterson, a Pathologist who is Medical Director of the East Jefferson Blood Bank and the Associate Medical Director of the Blood Center.

And while the blood shelves are empty, the hospitals are overflowing.

"Right now our hospital's full. Our beds are full. Our ICU's full ... They're at capacity and overflowing at University," said Dr. Mandy Flannery O'Leary, an Associate Professor of Pathology at LSU Health Sciences Center and Medical Director of the Blood Bank at UMC.

"The hospitals are very full. The E.R.s are very crowded. The past week alone there's been about 2,000 new flu cases in the state of Louisiana. It's hitting us hard," said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Director of Health for the City of New Orleans.

The city health director says Louisiana is leading the country right now in flu cases and Mardi Gras will only bring more people together. So he says now is the time to get the vaccine.

It could mean the difference in getting a case of the flu that only makes you feel lousy for a few days or one that takes your life.

They also say it's the flu, coming off of the holidays, and the icy weather, that is keeping people from giving blood. It's especially critical for the UMC Level I Trauma Center.

"It's not at the point where we've said we need to cancel elective surgeries, but we're getting close," said Dr. Flannery O'Leary.

And some people hospitalized with the flu who get pneumonia need blood transfusions for the extra oxygen-carrying red blood cells. So prevention is key.

"People need to be very conscientious about washing their hands all the time. Don't touch your face. Don't touch your nose and if you have to cough, please cover your mouth (using your inner elbow joint not hands that can spread the virus with touch)," said Dr. Kanter.

As far as how long you're contagious if you have the flu, according to the CDC, adults may be able to infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five-to-seven days after becoming sick.

Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.

Fifty-five parish health units across the state will be giving free flu vaccines next Wednesday, Jan. 31 from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m. to anyone six months and older.

Locally: 500 block of North Rampart Street and in Marrero on Ames Blvd.

To find the clinic nearest to you, click here.

For more information and resources on the flu in Louisiana, click here.

To find the nearest blood donation center, click here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out