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By Charles Lussier | clussier@theadvocate.com Jan 2, 2018 – 6:39 PM

The flu hit Louisiana in a big way in December, and medical professionals are worried that the early weeks of 2018 may prove just as bad or worse.

“We have had a massive surge of the flu this flu season,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

O’Neal said that a year ago in December, the hospital, not counting outpatient facilities, administered 1,500 tests, and only 98 were positive. This past month saw a dramatic increase, as the hospital administered 4,300 flu tests and 1,100 were positive.

The spike in activity came months earlier than normal and at levels higher than even peak times, O’Neal said.

“Those are not the kind of numbers we typically see in February and March,” she noted.

Nearby at Baton Rouge Clinic, the story is similar. About 50 patients a week were testing positive for flu early in the month. That doubled by the last two weeks of December and those rates are likely to continue for awhile, said Dr. Ricky Winburn, an internal medicine doctor with the clinic.

“Over the last week, every office was full,” Winburn said. “It’s hard to find space. Everyone is overbooked.”

The trend in Baton Rouge mirrors what is occurring across the country. Epidemiologists in 36 states have reported widespread influenza activity to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its latest data was released Friday and covers activity through the third week in December. On a color-coded map, the CDC paints 16 states, including Louisiana, in dark red to indicate the places with the most activity.

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