Peak of flu season
Graphs of flu activity.

Graphs provided by SC Dept. of Health

Peak of flu season

Story By: NICOLE ALLEGREZZA
2/8/2018


We are in the peak of the flu season — November through March — with numbers of confirmed cases outdoing those of seasons past. The virus attacks the lungs, nose and throat. Those at highest risk include the young, the old and pregnant, typically those with weak immune systems.
Once contracted, symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue. Some may even experience vomiting or diarrhea. Doctor’s orders usually include antiviral medication, rest and fluids, but over-the-counter pain relievers can help settle symptoms as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu this season is widespread throughout most of the United States. The vaccine’s effectiveness varies by type or subtype and is usually less effective against influenza A. Circulating virus strains include H1N1, H3N2 and both B strains, but H3N2 in particular has been a bit of a problem, challenging this year’s vaccine.

The CDC recommends those who are very sick or are at high risk of serious flu complications and get flu-like symptoms be treated with antiviral drugs as soon as possible. Though supplies are limited, the CDC is working with manufacturers to fill gaps in the market. Also, they suggest everyone get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already. There are still weeks of flu activity to come.

The CDC has already reported over 102,000 lab-test confirmed cases and a total 53 pediatric deaths since the start of the season, Oct. 1, 2017. The New York State Department of Health has reported over 11,000 confirmed influenza reports for the week ending on Jan. 27 and over 2,000 hospitalized patients, but no reported pediatric deaths. Suffolk County has reported a total of 625 lab-reported cases as of Jan. 27, which shows up considerably higher than in previous flu seasons for the month of January.

Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, according to acting chief nursing officer Cynthia Linder, has witnessed those numbers firsthand, with an influx of about 72 lab-test confirmed cases, 61 influenza A and 11 influenza B, since their first lab-test reported case on Nov. 30.

BMHMC suggests patients routinely wash their hands in addition to getting the flu shot, and to prevent the spread of the flu the hospital pushes the vaccine to their employees, who are caring for patients.

Despite the numbers, local school districts and nursing homes haven’t seen a serious influx in the flu this year, including the Suffolk Center located in East Patchogue, which has reported zero cases of the flu. The average age of Suffolk Center patients is 69.4.

Spokesperson for the Suffolk Center said the numbers vary year to year, but knowing how serious the virus can be for the aging, the center uses a quarantine method to prevent spreading.

District-wide, Patchogue-Medford reported about 185 suspected and unconfirmed cases of the flu. The cases are unconfirmed because they do not swab students. According to superintendent of South Country Schools Dr. Joseph Giani, though there have been “some” confirmed cases of the flu among students and staff, the district hasn’t seen a big spike. However, in the last week or so, there has been a slight uptick in the number of flu illnesses throughout the elementary schools.

 “I have to say, knock on wood, we haven’t been hit too hard yet,” said superintendent of Patchogue-Medford Schools Dr. Michael Hynes. “I believe our custodial staff along with our Pat-Med families are trying to be as proactive as we can by washing our hands and making sure we keep things clean within our schools.”

Earlier this month Suffolk County Department of Health commissioner James Tomarken urged county clinicians and residents to take important steps to reduce the spread of the virus and lessen its effects.

He suggested first being vaccinated, which is the best way to prevent the flu, and second for those who have already contracted the virus to take antiviral drugs that can make the illness milder, shorter and reduce serious complications. It works best, he said, when the treatment is started as early as possible after symptoms begin.

“Ideally, treatment should be initiated within 48 hours of symptom onset. However, antiviral treatment initiated later than 48 hours after illness onset can still be beneficial for some patients, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu,” he explained.

He also urged residents to stop the spread of germs by avoiding sick people and staying home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. Also, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer often.

 

Emergency warning signs of the flu include:

In children, trouble breathing, bluish skin, not drinking enough, not waking up, irritable to the point they don’t want to be held, or fever with rash. In adults, difficulty breathing, pain in chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe vomiting, and symptoms that improve then return worse with fever. Get medical help right away for an infant who is unable to eat, has trouble breathing, has no tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal.