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Meg Farris / Eyewitness News
Email: mfarris@wwltv.com | Twitter: @megfarriswwl

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana and the south are being hit hard by the flu.

''I felt like I got hit by a freight train. I've got 103 fever. It came on all of a sudden. Every muscle and bone in my body aches.' That's pretty much influenza,' said infectious diseases specialist Dr. Brobson Lutz, who was describing the phone calls he gets. Dr. Lutz is the Orleans Parish Medical Society health spokesman.

The flu is here, but doctors say you still should get a flu vaccine.

There are new details about the fast-spreading flu virus across the country.

Several southern states are seeing unusually high numbers of cases of the flu for this time of year. Louisiana is one of them, and the New Orleans area is being hit pretty hard.

An entire family feels miserable. Dad, in a separate exam room, was just tested positive for the flu. His wife and little boy fear the same results.

'We wind up with positive tests on about 50 percent of the people that we're suspicious have the flu,' said Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich, the chief medical officer of East Jefferson After Hours Urgent Care.

At the Metairie clinic on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, 20 more patients a day are coming in with flu symptoms. Most have not gotten the vaccine to protect them.

'To have this amount of influenza this early in the year is certainly more than I've seen in the last 10 years,' Dr. Lutz said from his Uptown office.

He reminds us that the flu can be deadly.

'Unlike the common cold, influenza can cause pneumonia. It can cause encephalitis. In pregnant women, it can cause fetal loss and even death. There and people with congestive heart failure and people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, there's always spikes in their death complication rates,' explained Dr. Lutz.

'I'm personally aware of a patient as young as 21 die from complications of the flu who was completely healthy. I'm aware of a 30-year-old who died of complications of the flu,' said Dr. Cvitanovich, who is also the coroner of Jefferson Parish.

Doctors say you should get the vaccine now. If you get sick, get a doctor's diagnosis and start on an antiviral the first day.

Expect to be in bed for days, then feeling fatigue for three or more weeks. And since influenza affects every organ and system in the body, be aware that one little known side effect is on the brain, causing post-flu depression that should be treated.

'There have been suicide deaths related to influenza. I know of about half a dozen in the last 10 or 15 years in the New Orleans area,' said Dr. Lutz.

The flu is spread through the air with coughing and sneezing. And you can infect someone before you even get sick.

And doctors say that one of the strains going around is more powerful and can cause more damage to the body.

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