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Early rise: Flu cases up in New York ahead of peak season; 77% over previous week

The number of confirmed flu cases in New

The number of confirmed flu cases in New York was 3,264 for the week ending Dec. 14. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Flu season is here — and moving at a fast and furious pace.

The number of new confirmed flu cases in New York was 3,264 for the week ending Dec. 14, a 77% increase over the previous week’s count of 1,839, according to the state Department of Health. There have been 1,109 confirmed cases in Nassau County and 411 in Suffolk County this season.

State health officials said the total number of confirmed cases this season in New York is 8,253, but it's too soon to tell if this is a harbinger of the flu season to come. Experts urged people who are not yet vaccinated to get flu shots as soon as possible.

“Over the past one to two weeks, the incidents of flu symptoms have been on the rise,” said Dr. Betsy Koickel, associate director of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care, who oversees centers in Suffolk County. “A lot of people are coming in with fever, cough, headache.”

The number of people who have the flu is likely higher than the number of confirmed cases, since not everyone who comes in with symptoms is tested, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there have been at least 3.7 million flu illnesses across the country since Oct. 1.

“The 2019-2020 influenza season started earlier than it has in recent years, with more cases at this point in time than the past three flu seasons, but it remains to be seen what the remainder of the season will look like,” Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said in a statement.

“Each flu season is different than prior ones," she added. "The number and type of viruses circulating, the amount of individuals vaccinated, vaccine effectiveness, and whether ill individuals do all they can to prevent infecting others, all play a role in determining how many cases there will be in the remainder of the flu season.”

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The most recent state statistics available are for the week ending Dec. 14. The number of confirmed flu cases during that same week in 2016 was 601, 891 in 2017 and 1,240 in 2018.

Koickel said Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care follows CDC guidelines, which recommends flu tests for people with compromised immune systems and people with underlying, chronic medical issues. Once flu is documented in a community, doctors can make a clinical diagnosis of the flu based on symptoms, the CDC advises.

“Flu testing is only 40 to 60% accurate,” Koickel said. “A high number of false negatives can happen. We never want to give people a false reassurance."

Influenza is nothing to sneeze at, experts said. While some people will recover after a week of rest and fluids, others can develop serious illnesses. Pregnant women, young children, older people and people with chronic health issues are most at risk of severe complications.

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious disease and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital, pointed out there have been more than 1,800 deaths nationwide attributed to the flu this season. New York State has had one influenza-associated pediatric death.

“If everybody got the vaccine, there would be less flu around,” Glatt said. “They are removing themselves as a vector of transmission. People need to understand when they get vaccinated, they are not just protecting themselves, but protecting everyone around them.”

The CDC reported that as of Dec. 13, 170.7 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States — the highest in a single season.

“It’s still not too late to get a flu shot,” Koickel said. “We are starting the peak of the season and flu is going to be with us well into March and April.”

FLU FACTS

  • The CDC estimates nationwide there have been 3.7 million illnesses, 32,000 hospitalizations and 1,800 deaths from the flu since Oct. 1.
  • Most flu activity is being caused by B/Victoria viruses and H1N1 viruses.
  • Confirmed cases in New York State: 8,253
  • Confirmed cases in Nassau County: 1,109
  • Confirmed cases in Suffolk County: 411

It is not too late to get a flu shot, health experts say. Getting vaccinated can keep you from getting sick with flu and protect people around you — including those most vulnerable to serious flu illness, including babies, young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.

SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health.

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