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Department of Health: Three kids dead in New York this flu season

Lev Greenberg, 10, receives his flu shot from

Lev Greenberg, 10, receives his flu shot from registered nurse Kathy Eisenstein at the Nassau County Department of Health on Feb. 10. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Three pediatric influenza deaths have occurred in New York this flu season as the viral illness continues to be widespread in all 62 New York counties, according to data from the state Department of Health.

The youngsters who died have not been identified by age, gender or place of residence. Their deaths occurred during the past several weeks and were not connected. Flu season started in October and currently is peaking.

Dr. Anthony Boutin, chief medical officer at Nassau University Medical Center, said the flow of influenza patients into NUMC’s emergency department is still high, and some patients have severe respiratory symptoms. He encourages anyone who is still unvaccinated to strongly consider a flu shot.

“I can tell you by the patients we’re seeing: They’ve been really, really sick — young kids and middle-age people. There’s a large number that we’ve sent home. But there are others that we have held in the emergency department,” Boutin said.

“Looking at the numbers between this year and last year, I think we’re peaking,” he added, referring to the brunt of flu season. “But based on what we’re seeing now, this could go on for another month or two.”

Boutin said patients are so sick, they didn’t realize their illness was caused by the affliction that circumnavigates the globe. “They didn’t know they had the flu. They were miserable,” he said.

Nationally, 41 pediatric flu deaths have been tallied this season, which is proving to be far tamer than last year’s deadly bout with the respiratory illness that proved to be so fierce that some hospitals were running out of beds.

While pediatric deaths are usually a bellwether for a ferocious flu season, this year does not compare with 2018 when nearly 200 children and teens succumbed to the flu across the country. An estimated 70 percent of them had not been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All told, last year’s flu season claimed the lives of about 80,000 people of all ages in the United States, causing one of the highest influenza mortality rates in 40 years.

Yet even as flu activity has remained widespread, the number of hospitalizations in New York started a downward shift Feb. 16. On that date, the number of hospitalizations for people of all ages dropped by 10 percent, according to the state’s flu surveillance report, which is regularly updated throughout flu season.

Another statistic in the state report indicates that while hospitalizations have been declining, there has been a boost in the number of visits to doctors’ offices for influenza. Nearly 5 percent of visits to doctors statewide were for flu-like illnesses, a percentage that is above the expected baseline of 3.10 percent of total visits to doctors.

Throughout flu season, A strains have been the most prevalent. The one identified most consistently this season by the Wadsworth Center, the state laboratory in Albany, is the A strain dubbed H1N1, followed by H3N2, another A strain of flu.

The same pattern has been seen throughout most of the nation, with the exception of the Southeast where H3N2 is most prevalent. A strains of influenza circulate in humans and animals; B strains, which usually emerge at the tail end of flu season, affect only humans.

Earlier this month, Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, told Newsday that H1N1 is the strain being seen disproportionately at his hospital compared with H3N2 this time last year.

He said H1N1 tends to affect children more frequently than older people because most children generally have no traces of immunity to the virus. The one in circulation this flu season is a distant cousin of the swine flu virus that circled the globe as a pandemic strain in 2009.

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