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NEW ORLEANS — It’s carnival season folks, so pull out those ladders, grab a slice of king cake, and slather on the hand sanitizer.

That’s right, with Mardi Gras comes the masses — and the germs.

“Use that hand sanitizer frequently. That can definitely reduce the likelihood of transmitting a virus to yourself or someone else,” Dr. Benjamin Springgate of LSU Health New Orleans said.

We all love our special spots on the route, but if someone’s hacking away — move out!

“If you notice that someone’s sick that’s near you, then first thing, stand away from them. Three to six feet away from them, optimally,” Springgate said.

And you may want to tweak that Mardi Gras mask.

“A mask can work, but I has to be worn consistently and it has to fit tightly around your face,” he said.

Or wear that carnival-colored scarf!

“Maybe you can pull your scarf a little tighter around your face, just to provide some extra barrier,” he said.

And this may make your kindergarten teacher mad, but don’t share.

“You don’t have to share that drink or share the food along the parade route this year – or the king cake, for example,” Springgate said.

And if you’re not feeling well. Stay home.

“Do yourself a favor. Recuperate and do not expose other people,” he said.

The best way to battle the flu? The flu shot.

But what about reports spreading around, claiming the vaccine’s not that effective? Dr. Springgate says it’s 30 percent effective, and still worth getting.

“You can imagine, if you wear a seat belt, that seat belt’s not going to protect you from every possible injury or every possible car crash – but it’s going to protect you against some. And the same is true with the flu vaccine,” he said. “Thirty percent effective could still mean maybe you don’t go to the hospital, maybe you don’t spread it to someone else, maybe your experience is only for a couple days, instead of for a week or two weeks.”

So get the shot and take the proper precautions! Then you can join the crowds, and worry about catching beads, instead of the flu.

Everyone’s advised to get a shot once a year,  especially high risk groups like the very old and very young.

Health officials say during more severe seasons, the flu causes roughly 700 deaths and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana. We are already on track to meet and possibly exceed these statistics.

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