NEW ORLEANS -- Even with an early start to the flu season this year, the number of cases nationwide is still on the rise. Here in Louisiana nearly 800 people have tested positive for the flu since Oct. 1.
Those tests show the virus is now widespread in the state. National health experts say this year's strain is more severe than in recent years.
Ross Heidingsfelder got tested for the flu Tuesday. He said he felt like he was coming down with something on New Year's Day, felt better for a couple of days, and now, is achy and congested.
“Most of them have the same complaints: cough, cold, congestion, low-grade to high-grade fever, a little bit of muscle aches, fatigue,” said Dr. Patrick Dennis.
He tested positive for influenza type b. Dr. Patrick Dennis said that's the more rare strain that he’s seeing in his practice this year.
“95 percent of them have been testing positive for flu a,” he said.
According to Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals data, the influenza a strain going around is a 99 percent match to the flu vaccine. The b strain is a 69 percent match.
The latest numbers from the state show the rate of infections is still climbing, something Dr. Dennis is seeing in his Harrison Avenue urgent care clinic.
“It definitely seems to be spiking over the past three weeks,” Dennis said.
The director of the Influenza Coordination Unit for the Centers for Disease Control said we are seeing a more severe flu season this year.
“The rate of outpatient visits is about twice what it was last year even at this early time,” Rear Admiral Stephen Redd said.
It comes on the heels of the most mild flu season in 30 years, according to Redd. He urged people to get the vaccine, even though it takes a couple of weeks to build up the immunity. And in case you're concerned the vaccine will get you sick, he said it can’t.
“The one that we commonly hear is that getting the vaccine causes you to get the flu. That's really just not possible,” Redd said.
A little arm soreness is most likely all you'll get from the vaccine, something much easier to deal with than the flu.
Doctors urge everyone out there to do three things to help stop the spread: wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and don't go to work or send your kids to school if they are sick.