Jan. 31 (UPI) — The flu is expected to hit Louisiana hard this year and could potentially result in nearly 1,000 deaths, health officials said this week.

The Louisiana Department of Health noticed a sharp spike the the number of flu cases and issued new rounds of flu vaccines to aid prevention. But the state is still in pace for more flu cases than it has seen in recent years.

“In more severe seasons, the flu causes approximately 700 deaths and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana,” Dr. Frank Welch, state immunization medical director, told The Advocate. “We are already on track to meet and possibly exceed these statistics for the 2017-18 flu season.”

Dr. Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist, said he expectts the final flu-related death toll to be near 1,000.

“The message is get the vaccine. It’s not too late,” he said.

Public Health Dr. Martha Whyte told KTBS-TV that Louisianans with the flu made up more than 10 percent of hospital visits for several weeks.

“This year, we are at 11 percent, and we’ve been at 11 percent for several weeks. Normally, we will see a day or two spike up to 10 percent, and we’ve been above 10 percent for a few weeks now,” Whyte said. “We haven’t been that high since before the pandemic flu back in 2009.”

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