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Flu patients fill LI emergency rooms, cause many absences at schools, health officials say

Lee Road Elementary School in Wantagh is shown

Lee Road Elementary School in Wantagh is shown in this Google Maps view. Photo Credit: Google

A surge in flulike illnesses is filling local emergency rooms and causing so many absences at a Wantagh elementary school that more than a third of its students have been absent this week, school and health officials said Wednesday.

Doctors and public health authorities say flu viruses are in robust circulation just as other wintertime bugs are also on the move.

"The department of health is investigating a cluster of influenza cases at the Lee Road Elementary School. This is an ongoing investigation," said Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County health department.

School officials say they are taking every precaution to minimize infection as children who are still in school prepare for their winter break.

All evidence so far suggests the flu has gotten a jump on the season, which runs from late fall through early spring. Cases tend to peak in January. Laurain said while there were 66 cases of laboratory-confirmed flu between October and mid-December 2013, so far this year there have been 232.

"Our custodial staff will ensure that all touched surfaces have been thoroughly cleaned," Levittown schools Superintendent Tonie McDonald said in a statement. "Parents are encouraged to remind children to wash hands, and cover coughs and sneezes. The district is consulting with the Nassau County health department," the statement said.

During a news conference at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow Wednesday, doctors acknowledged an uptick in flu cases but noted that other respiratory viruses are just as menacing this time of year.

So far only five people -- four children and one adult -- have been hospitalized at the facility because of the flu.

"We are actually seeing more parainfluenza," said Dr. Krishan Kumar, director of pediatrics at NUMC's emergency department.

Parainfluenza is another nagging wintertime respiratory infection that frequently afflicts infants and young children, although virtually anyone is susceptible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms can include fever, runny nose and cough, but severe illness can include an increased level of infection and croup, an inflammatory condition of the upper airway, which can lead to breathing difficulties.

Dr. Janice Verley, who heads the department of infectious diseases at NUMC, said despite a notable mismatch between the vaccine and the primary strain of flu in circulation this year -- A/H3N2 -- it is better to be vaccinated than to go without it.

Verley, speaking at the same NUMC news conference, said there is a substantial level of "cross-protection" even when the strains do not match.

The CDC made the mismatch public two weeks ago.

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