The number of children between the ages of 6 months...

The number of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years vaccinated against the flu this year is about 51%, almost 3% lower than last year and almost 10% lower than in February 2020, according to the CDC. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

The spring flowers are pushing their heads up, but don’t be fooled — it’s still flu season.

Though down from the peak in December, increased flu cases have lingered later this year compared with recent seasons.

Over 17,000 lab-confirmed flu cases were reported in New York for the week ending March 2, according to the state Health Department. During that same week during the last two years, that number didn’t break 2,000.

Officials have said that in general, respiratory viruses such as influenza, COVID-19 and RSV are on the decline locally and across the state. But doctor’s offices and urgent care centers on Long Island are still getting a substantial number of visits and calls from patients with flu symptoms.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • People are still falling ill with the flu on Long Island and around the U.S. even though it is relatively late in the flu season.

  • The state Health Department reported over 17,000 lab-confirmed flu cases for the week ending March 2, far more than for this time period in previous years.

  • Some doctors believe fewer people are getting the flu vaccine, partly due to “vaccine fatigue” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing more flu lately,” said Dr. Gary Mirkin, a pediatrician with Allied Physicians Group in Great Neck. “It's dragged on longer than we're used to.”

So far this season, there have been 62,174 lab-confirmed cases on Long Island compared with 56,300 at this point in 2022-2023 and 29,768 in 2021-2022. Lab-confirmed cases only represent a portion of flu cases, since many people with mild symptoms don’t need medical care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nationally there have been at least 28 million illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from flu.

Of the 103 pediatric deaths reported so far, the CDC said about 90% of those deaths were among children who had not received their annual flu shot. Eleven of the deaths have been in New York.

Flu season runs from October through May, but the peak is usually around December and January.

Experts said flu seasons are notoriously hard to predict. The 2021-2022 season was milder but had the unusual feature of two peaks, one in December and one in late April. Researchers have said flu cases dropped dramatically during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to masking, social distancing and other restrictions.

Dr. Neal Shipley, medical director at Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care, said while flu cases are higher than they have been this time in recent years, they are down by about 30% from December.

“There’s certainly laboratory evidence that positive influenza cases as reported to the Department of Health are higher than we have historically seen this late in the season,” Shipley said. “I'm not quite sure what that's a reflection of, other than people perhaps not being vaccinated to a degree.”

Shipley said the COVID-19 pandemic created a certain amount of vaccine fatigue, but it’s vital to get a flu shot every year.

“The flu virus changes every year,” he said. “That's why there's a new vaccine every year.”

While the vaccine may not prevent inoculated people from getting the flu, it could make their illness less severe, he said.

Mirkin said his office is “having a lot of trouble” getting parents to have their kids vaccinated against flu and other vaccines.

“There’s always resistance,” he said. “It’s much worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mirkin said anecdotally, most of the more severe flu cases he has seen this year were among children who did not get vaccinated.

The CDC said nationally, the number of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years vaccinated against the flu this year is about 51%, almost 3% lower than last year and almost 10% lower than in Feb. 2020.

About 48% of adults have received their flu shots this year. Last year, the percentage for the entire season was almost 47%, a 2.5% drop from 49.4% in 2021-2022.

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