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Doctors say to get your shot because flu season peaks over next three months

Experts said it is difficult to determine when

Experts said it is difficult to determine when flu season will peak, but December, January and February are usually the months where high numbers of cases are reported. Credit: Johnny Milano

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As flu cases continue to rise across New York, doctors are encouraging people to take precautions and get a flu shot.

There were 723 laboratory-confirmed cases  of influenzaas of Nov. 23, a 77% increase over the previous week, according to the New York State Health Department. And those numbers are likely to grow in the coming weeks and months, as flu season peaks.

Newsday spoke with infectious disease specialists to answer some commonly asked questions about the flu.

Question: What does the flu season look like so far this year?

Answer: “It looks like it’s pretty good if you are a virus,” said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, attending physician of infectious diseases at the Northwell Health System. “Every week there are increasing numbers of people dealing with flu and flu-like symptoms.”

Experts said it is difficult to determine when flu season will peak, but December, January and February are usually the months where high numbers of cases are reported.

Q: Is it too late to get the flu shot?

A: “Absolutely not,” said Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chair of medicine and chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital. “You should run and get it right away.”

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Glatt said flu shots are potentially lifesaving and effective ways for communities to have less flu.

Hirsch pointed out that the flu season can extend into the spring.

“We would encourage people to have the benefit of the flu shot even if there are people getting the flu in the community right now for later protection,” Hirsch said.

Q: Will the flu shot give me the flu or make me sick?

A: Glatt said people may experience some soreness or minor aches on their arm after getting the shot but emphasized you cannot get the flu from a flu shot because the vaccine has inactive viruses.

“Some people will catch the flu within two weeks of getting the flu shot because they are exposed to the flu and it takes about two weeks to build immunity,” Glatt said.

Q: How do I know I have the flu and it’s not just a cold?

A: “The flu is more severe than most colds,” said Hirsch. “A person feels really sick. There’s less nasal congestion and more of everything else.”

Flu symptoms can include fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, fever and a sore throat.

“The flu has the unique ability to make the body feel like it’s had a really big, vigorous workout,” Hirsch said.

Q: What should I do if I think I have flu symptoms?

A: Stay home. The flu is very infectious and you could make other people sick.

“We are encouraging people to not be a stupid hero and go to work and infect other people,” Hirsch said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. But if your symptoms are severe or you are in a high-risk group, you should contact your doctor. High-risk groups include older people, young children and people with certain chronic health conditions. In some cases, those complications can result in hospitalization or death.

Q: What can I do to avoid getting the flu?

A: “The most important thing to do to avoid getting the flu is to not come in contact with people who have the flu,” Glatt said.

Good hygiene is key, such as washing your hands, he said.

“Eat, drink, get enough sleep and take care of yourself,” Glatt recommended.

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As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing.  Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.

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