NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The state Health Department says three children in Louisiana died of the flu so far this season. And now, they're seeing two other strains of the virus circulating.
Dr. Frank Welch with the Louisiana Department of Health says in his 20 years in the state, he's never seen this much flu going around. While he says there has been a drop in the number of hospitalizations or health care visits due to the virus, it's still terrible.
"We're still at a really, really high rate of the flu," said Welch.
What's more? The state has started to see a shift from the H3N2 strain of the flu that was making people so sick to the circulation of the swine flu and the B strain.
"Just because we have recovered or recovering from one strain of the flu doesn't mean we don't have five, six weeks of flu left and another flu strain comes in and rears its ugly head," said Welch. "Typically adults don't get as sick from B strains of flu but, kids can get really sick from the B strain as well as the two A strains, which is making this season a particularly bad one for children."
So far, the state has confirmed three pediatric flu deaths. Nationwide, the virus has killed close to 100 children.
"In addition to that a number of doctor visits, the school absences, the hospitalizations are all up for children this year again it's a really serious year for children and the flu," said Welch.
We spoke with pediatric emergency room physician Jerussa Aita-Levy at Children's Hospital in New Orleans. She says they're still seeing a large number of patients testing positive for both the A and B strains. But they haven't had as many admissions or severe cases this year compared to 2009 when there was an outbreak of the swine flu.
"We are finding also that kids that are getting the vaccination, although they may test positive and may get the flu, their symptoms are less severe and less likely to be hospitalized," said Aita-Levy.
Doctors agree your best protection against the virus is getting the flu shot. They say it's not too late if you haven't had it yet.
"People ask me you know if I've had the flu it means I don't need the flu shot right? And, the answer is actually no. There is nothing to say. Imagine getting the flu twice in one season. So, even if you have had the flu, I'd go out and get that flu shot to be protected against the strains you didn't come in contact with," said Welch.
The Health Department stresses that if you are sick, you should stay home and call your doctor. Also, follow common sense rules like covering your cough, wash your hands frequently and stay away from sick people.
You can also get a free flu shot at your parish health unit. Louisiana's Health Department says they're available while supplies last.