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Flu cases soaring across NYC; hospital ERs packed

Masks, like these being worn in Spain, are probably not needed -- but flu shots and hand washing are strongly recommended. AP photo by Dario Lopez-Mills

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Better get your flu shot while you still can, doctors warn.

Influenza is sweeping across the United States -- and New York City is being hit especially hard, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the city’s Department of Health (DOH).

Across the city, hospital emergency departments are packed with patients suffering coughs, fevers and sore throats, and numbers are on their way up.

In recent weeks, the city's ERs have been seeing roughly 500 flu-related cases a day -- many of them children -- and admitting roughly 60 people a week for in-hospital care, according to DOH. This is more than double the typical number of flu cases.

As of January 8, hospital emergency rooms across Brooklyn were hit with 100 - 150 patients with flu-like symptoms every day. (Queens had slightly more cases, while the Bronx had slightly fewer. Manhattan reported between 75 - 100 cases, while Staten Island averaged roughly 10 cases a day.)

The Emergency Department at Downstate Long Island College Hospital in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn saw 1,174 patients with flu-like symptoms from December 1, 2012 to January 7, 2013, the hospital said. The patients were about equally divided between children and adults -- significantly more children than usual.

"I strongly recommend that everyone get a flu shot -- it's not too late," Dr. Caitlin Jones, physician-in-charge of the Emergency Department at LICH told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. "This number is double the amount we typically see. This year, we are also receiving reports of people, particularly seniors, having flu-like symptoms. If this is the case, I encourage you to visit your physician and be evaluated."

Not only is there more flu going around this year, but also the type of flu is more severe than in recent years.

“This one’s really bad,” said Dr. Doris Bucher, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at New York Medical College in Valhalla. Dr. Bucher’s lab creates the “seed strains” for the world’s manufacturers of flu vaccine.

“What’s circulating is H3N2, which looks different to people’s immune system than H1N1,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It got a much earlier start than usual, and it hasn’t peaked.” Bucher said that 18 children have died already from this outbreak, “and it takes a while for reports to come in. Young children are being hospitalized with high frequency.”

“Get a flu shot,” she urged. “There’s still time for protection. People are getting really sick.” Though it takes roughly two weeks after the shot to develop full immunity, Bucher said that the people should see some benefit within a week.

Doctors offices and health clinics plus pharmacies like Rite Aid and CVS offer flu shots, for fees usually ranging from $25 - $30. (Many insurance plans cover the shots.) People under the age of 49 can also inhale a nasal-spray flu vaccine. The New York City DOH offers a “Flu Locater” at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/flu/
 
Since influenza vaccine is not as effective in people over the age of 65, seniors may want to ask their doctors about the “Fluzone High-Dose,” vaccine which contains four times the amount of antigen contained in regular flu shots. There are also several drugs that are used to prevent and treat flu including oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir (Relenza).

To prevent the spread of flu and other infections, the CDC recommends:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue or the inside of your elbow – not your hand.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (PDF).
  • Don’t get too close to people who are sick. Maintain a distance of 3 feet.

January 8, 2013 - 1:40pm


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