The only way to be certain that any patient has influenza is to submit a specimen for laboratory testing. There are rapid tests for the flu but they are less accurate than those done in a lab. While procedures vary widely across the nation, specimens are submitted to labs when influenza is the suspected diagnosis.
The illustration above clearly demonstrates what a number of labs in the individual states are reporting. Of 12,876 specimens tested, 32.8 percent were positive for influenza. Patients with influenza make up less than one third of all patients that had specimens submitted for lab testing. It’s not just the flu going ’round.
Some states don’t test very strenuously. Illinois, for example, tested 5 specimens in week one and found that four were positive for influenza. New York City tested 4,192 specimens and 23 percent were positive for flu. We looked at the 20 state that have 75 percent of the U.S. population and about 24.6 percent of specimens tested in labs in those states were positive for influenza. Some states had no data online and others, like Illinois, tested few samples. California has tested 2,320 samples and is showing 14.6 percent of the specimens were influenza positive.
How do you know what you have, the flu or something else? In general, it doesn’t matter. Unless you are at higher risk from influenza or influenza complications, there is not much a physician can do for you. Higher risk patients should be tested so that they can receive antiviral medications such as Tamiflu. Other patients may receive prescriptions for medications to relieve their symptoms or be directed by their physicians to over the counter remedies.