Federal and state health officials recommend flu shots for children...

Federal and state health officials recommend flu shots for children 6 months and older. Credit: TNS/C5Media

Flu season has arrived early and with a vengeance on Long Island, spiking to the highest level since at least 2009, according to state figures.

More than 3,100 lab-confirmed cases of influenza have been documented statewide in the first three weeks of the official flu season, including 677 cases on Long Island as of Oct. 22. Cases on Long Island are at least seven times higher this year than for the same period in the previous 12 years, when cases ranged from six to 86.

This year's total also surpasses October 2009, in the midst of the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. That year, the earliest year local data was available, there were 2,868 lab-confirmed cases statewide by the third week, including 261 cases on Long Island.

“I think that it will be a bad flu season based upon what we've seen so far,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.

The surging flu numbers come as health care systems across the nation are struggling to handle an influx of infants and young children with respiratory syncytial virus and bracing for the impact of several new COVID-19 subvariants that may infect people even if they are vaccinated or previously have tested positive.

While it is difficult to predict how the rest of the flu season will play out, Glatt said the fast start to the flu season, along with the prevalence of respiratory viruses, "is something that we're all concerned about."

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett on Thursday said the state is "facing a triple threat" this fall with respiratory viruses like RSV, flu and COVID-19 on the rise. She urged people to protect themselves by getting their annual flu shot and staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Bassett also reminded parents to contact their children's pediatricians before bringing them to emergency rooms and suggested indoor masking for those who live with people at risk of developing serious illness.

The flu figures for New York mirror a national trend, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates that within these first few weeks, there have been at least 880,000 flu illnesses, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from flu. There has been one influenza-associated pediatric death reported of a young person under the age of 18.

The flu can cause serious illness, especially in young children, people 65 years and older and those with certain chronic medical conditions.

In addition, the agency said the cumulative hospitalization rate is higher for this time period than in previous seasons going back to 2010-11.

Infectious disease experts believe respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV are up at least in part due to the fact that COVID-19 pandemic precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, have been either relaxed or eliminated.

“Schools are back in session, people are going back to work,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care. “When people are in congregate settings indoors, that's how all these respiratory viruses get transmitted. So if you're not wearing a mask and … the guy next to you is coughing and sneezing, whatever he's got, you might get it.”

Several Long Island hospital systems said Thursday they have not seen an unusual number of flu patients as of yet. But Dr. Alan Bulbin, an infectious disease specialist at Catholic Health, said the fact that they are seeing "widespread cases of flu" this early in the season is "uncommon and concerning."

The state reported that 76 patients were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza as of Oct. 22, a 6% decrease over the previous week.

Shipley said the urgent care centers he oversees in the city and on Long Island have seen a spike in flu activity.

Because flu, COVID-19 and RSV share many of the same symptoms, such as cough, runny nose and fever, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible to start treatment, Shipley said.

“Flu is typically not subtle,” he said. “You have a fever of 101, 102, people feel like they've been hit by a truck.”

Shipley has noticed one positive trend in recent weeks: an increased demand for the flu vaccine, especially in those 65 and over.

“That’s a great thing,” he said. “That’s who we want to get vaccinated.”

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older in the United States receive a flu vaccine every season, with some rare exceptions.

Last year, the CDC estimated that fewer than 50% of adults and about 58% of children from the ages of 6 month to 17 years received the shot. Those were decreases from the previous year.

For this season so far, the estimate for children is similar to last year at the same time, around 22%. For adults, it is also trending on a similar path, around 21% for the same time period.

Health experts have said they are worried people are skipping important vaccinations due to fatigue from several rounds of COVID-19 shots as well as misinformation.

“People aren’t getting vaccinated as much as they should be,” Glatt said. “I think that people are nervous about vaccinations for reasons that aren’t scientific necessarily, and it's a problem."

Glatt pointed out that even if this year's flu vaccine doesn't exactly match the current circulating strain, it still provides protection against serious illness.

"The benefits of it are significant," he said.

With Arielle Martinez

Flu season has arrived early and with a vengeance on Long Island, spiking to the highest level since at least 2009, according to state figures.

More than 3,100 lab-confirmed cases of influenza have been documented statewide in the first three weeks of the official flu season, including 677 cases on Long Island as of Oct. 22. Cases on Long Island are at least seven times higher this year than for the same period in the previous 12 years, when cases ranged from six to 86.

This year's total also surpasses October 2009, in the midst of the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. That year, the earliest year local data was available, there were 2,868 lab-confirmed cases statewide by the third week, including 261 cases on Long Island.

“I think that it will be a bad flu season based upon what we've seen so far,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Lab-confirmed cases of flu on Long Island and in New York State are the highest for this time period in more than 13 years.
  • Health experts urged all eligible New Yorkers to get a flu shot, which will protect them from serious illness.
  • The surging flu season comes as RSV cases among infants and young children increase, as well as fears of future COVID-19 waves due to new subvariants.

The surging flu numbers come as health care systems across the nation are struggling to handle an influx of infants and young children with respiratory syncytial virus and bracing for the impact of several new COVID-19 subvariants that may infect people even if they are vaccinated or previously have tested positive.

While it is difficult to predict how the rest of the flu season will play out, Glatt said the fast start to the flu season, along with the prevalence of respiratory viruses, "is something that we're all concerned about."

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett on Thursday said the state is "facing a triple threat" this fall with respiratory viruses like RSV, flu and COVID-19 on the rise. She urged people to protect themselves by getting their annual flu shot and staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Bassett also reminded parents to contact their children's pediatricians before bringing them to emergency rooms and suggested indoor masking for those who live with people at risk of developing serious illness.

The flu figures for New York mirror a national trend, according to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates that within these first few weeks, there have been at least 880,000 flu illnesses, 6,900 hospitalizations and 360 deaths from flu. There has been one influenza-associated pediatric death reported of a young person under the age of 18.

The flu can cause serious illness, especially in young children, people 65 years and older and those with certain chronic medical conditions.

In addition, the agency said the cumulative hospitalization rate is higher for this time period than in previous seasons going back to 2010-11.

Cases rise as precautions relax

Infectious disease experts believe respiratory viruses such as flu and RSV are up at least in part due to the fact that COVID-19 pandemic precautions, such as wearing masks and social distancing, have been either relaxed or eliminated.

“Schools are back in session, people are going back to work,” said Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care. “When people are in congregate settings indoors, that's how all these respiratory viruses get transmitted. So if you're not wearing a mask and … the guy next to you is coughing and sneezing, whatever he's got, you might get it.”

Several Long Island hospital systems said Thursday they have not seen an unusual number of flu patients as of yet. But Dr. Alan Bulbin, an infectious disease specialist at Catholic Health, said the fact that they are seeing "widespread cases of flu" this early in the season is "uncommon and concerning."

The state reported that 76 patients were hospitalized with lab-confirmed influenza as of Oct. 22, a 6% decrease over the previous week.

Shipley said the urgent care centers he oversees in the city and on Long Island have seen a spike in flu activity.

Because flu, COVID-19 and RSV share many of the same symptoms, such as cough, runny nose and fever, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible to start treatment, Shipley said.

“Flu is typically not subtle,” he said. “You have a fever of 101, 102, people feel like they've been hit by a truck.”

Shipley has noticed one positive trend in recent weeks: an increased demand for the flu vaccine, especially in those 65 and over.

“That’s a great thing,” he said. “That’s who we want to get vaccinated.”

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older in the United States receive a flu vaccine every season, with some rare exceptions.

Last year, the CDC estimated that fewer than 50% of adults and about 58% of children from the ages of 6 month to 17 years received the shot. Those were decreases from the previous year.

For this season so far, the estimate for children is similar to last year at the same time, around 22%. For adults, it is also trending on a similar path, around 21% for the same time period.

Health experts have said they are worried people are skipping important vaccinations due to fatigue from several rounds of COVID-19 shots as well as misinformation.

“People aren’t getting vaccinated as much as they should be,” Glatt said. “I think that people are nervous about vaccinations for reasons that aren’t scientific necessarily, and it's a problem."

Glatt pointed out that even if this year's flu vaccine doesn't exactly match the current circulating strain, it still provides protection against serious illness.

"The benefits of it are significant," he said.

With Arielle Martinez

Rally for food at NCC … Imagine Dragons at Jones Beach … Mascot ban update Credit: Newsday

Updated 14 minutes ago Testing barrels found in Bethpage ... Opening statements in Trump trial ... Jets trade Zach Wilson ... Tulip festival

Rally for food at NCC … Imagine Dragons at Jones Beach … Mascot ban update Credit: Newsday

Updated 14 minutes ago Testing barrels found in Bethpage ... Opening statements in Trump trial ... Jets trade Zach Wilson ... Tulip festival

Latest videos

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months
ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME